The Holmes Brothers play rock 'n’ roll like a band that grew up playing the blues on Saturday night and then gospel in church on Sunday morning. Drummer Popsy Dixon, guitarist/keyboardist Wendell Holmes, and bassist Sherman Holmes play rough and tumble with the blues—but their vocal harmonies, most often casting Sherman’s baritone and Popsy’s falsetto in harmony with Wendell’s rough leads, ring like a churchbell with sweet, sweet gospel (their hometown: Christchurch, Virginia).
Simple Truths rings both simple and true, from its abundance of classics by such songwriters as Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, and Bob Marley to its other blues (“Big Boss Man”) and R&B (Bruce Channel’s soul-stirring “Hey Baby”) classics, its four new originals, even to its bluegrassy, hop-skippity up-tempo cover of “Shine” by grunge-popsters Collective Soul (which comes off better than the idea might sound).
Like a musical summit between the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and George Thorogood & his Delaware Destroyers, “Run Myself Out of Town” opens up a can o’ good old-fashioned rock & roll whoop-ass then sweetens when serving with heavenly gospel harmonies. A grinding, metallic “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” also shoots off sparks, raw old-school Chicago screaming electric guitar blues possessed by the spirits of Son Seals and Hound Dog Taylor.
“Hey Baby” is another one of those cool little songs of the kind you almost never hear any more. Close your eyes and imagine Ray Charles (Sherman) on vocals soulfully swinging unplugged, acoustic guitar backporch funk with Eric Clapton (Wendell and guest guitarist Chris Bruce).
The Holmes Brothers have been performing together since the late 1970s. Their resume includes sessions with Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, the Jungle Brothers, and Joan Osborne, who also asked them to be her backing band when she toured opening for Bob Dylan. You can also hear the Holmes Brothers supporting Osborne, Odetta, Phoebe Snow, and Victoria Williams on Shout, Sister, Shout (M.C. Records), a tribute album to Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Personnel: Wendell Holmes (lead vocal and electric guitar), Sherman Holmes (bass and vocals), and Popsy Dixon (drums and vocals), with Chris Bruce (acoustic guitar), David Piltch (upright bass), Patrick Warren (pump organ), and Greg Leisz (acoustic, national steel, and pedal steel guitar)