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The Holmes Brothers: State of Grace

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Wendell Holmes plays guitar, piano and sings, and Sherman Holmes plays bass and sings. When Popsy Dixon joins on drums and vocals, this trio transforms into the Holmes Brothers, the Blues Foundation's 2005 Band of the Year. Their three-part harmonies are honeyed country gospel, but their front-stoop funk and dark, broken-hearted tales are pure country blues.

The Holmes Brothers make every song they sing sound gospel sacred and gutbucket funky. Look no further for an example than Wendell's twelve-bar electric blues "Standing in the Need of Love. He leads this pained blue moan with guitar playing that strips off sheets of raw, primitive sound, each layer revealing new depths of anguish like a scabbed wound, while Popsy and Sherman offer comfort with sweet vocal harmonies: Elmore James meets The Impressions.

The Brothers also present a collection of cover material that comprises roadhouse Americana, drawn from Hank Williams, Sr., George Jones, John Fogerty, Nick Lowe, Lyle Lovett and other genuinely great songwriters. Several of these covers almost supernaturally transubstantiate the original material. "Bad Moon Rising genuinely cooks as a hot Cajun griller, a bayou two-step, while "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding snuggles comfortably in warm country-knit acoustic and pedal steel guitar. "I Want You to Want Me, Rick Nielsen's ode to throbbing teen lust for Cheap Trick, slows all the way down into a reverential, transcendent hymn, almost a prayer.

Roseanne Cash takes Wendell's hand to stroll with him down the memory lane of Williams' "I Can't Help It if I'm Still in Love With You, and Joan Osbourne steps out to front a raucous "Those Memories of You, rampaging and soaring toward the spirit of Janis Joplin. State of Grace also marks the return to recording of Levon Helm (of The Band) since his recovery from throat cancer; Helm plays drums on "Three Grey Walls and handles snare drum and mandolin (as well as vocals) on "I've Just Seen the Rock of Ages in a voice vulnerable on the edge of quivering, high and wraithlike, cast in all the haunted emotion of this gospel spiritual.


Track Listing: Smiling Face Hiding a Weeping Heart; Close the Door; (What

Personnel: Wendell Holmes: vocals, guitar; Sherman Holmes, vocals, bass; Popsy Dixon: vocals, drums, percussion; Glenn Patscha: organ, piano, guitar, vocals, accordion; Larry Campbell: mandolin, pedal steel, fiddle; Byron Isaacs: upright bass, vocals; Catherine Russell: vocals; Roseanne Cash: vocals; John Leventhal: guitar; Levon Helm: drums, snare drum, mandolin, vocals; Amy Helm: vocals; Fiona McBain: vocals; Joan Osborne: vocals; Chris Bruce: guitar; Craig Street: guitar; Colby Rose Street: vocals.

Title: State of Grace | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Alligator Records

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