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The spine-tingling harmonies, boundless energy and telepathic musicianship of The Holmes Brothers (bassist/vocalist Sherman Holmes, guitarist/pianist/ vocalist Wendell Holmes, drummer/vocalist Popsy Dixon) mix Saturday night’s roadhouse rock with the gospel fervor and harmonies of Sunday’s church service. As Wendell says about their blend of the secular and the sacred, “Jesus turned water into wine, not wine into water.” USA Today calls The Holmes Brothers’ vision of American roots music “masterful and convincing.” Entertainment Weekly says, “The Holmes Brothers are juke-joint vets with a brazenly borderless view of American music.” Their chilling harmonies resonate with a passion and conviction matched only by their inspired musicianship and their ability to perform sanctified gospel, low-down roadhouse blues, deep soul, Americana/country and pure pop—all in one set. They’ve recorded with Van Morrison, Peter Gabriel, Odetta, Phoebe Snow, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Levon Helm and Joan Osborne, and have gigged all over the world—even performing for President Clinton. They joined the Alligator Records family in 2001, and their label debut—the inspirationally stirring Speaking In Tongues (AL 4877)—amazed and delighted everyone who heard it. Greg Kot of The Chicago Tribune called it a “joyous, foot-stomping carnival…a gift to the world of music.” 2004’s Simple Truths earned even more acclaim. The Chicago Sun-Times called it, “A breathtaking and heartfelt journey through gospel-drenched soul, blues, funk and country.” They won the coveted Blues Music Award from the Memphis-based Blues Foundation for Band Of The Year in 2005.
Now The Holmes Brothers return with STATE OF GRACE, produced by Craig Street (Norah Jones, Chris Whitley, Cassandra Wilson) who also produced Simple Truths. Noted for their ability to transform songs by legendary writers from The Beatles to Tom Waits to Bob Marley, The Holmes Brothers push that tradition even farther on STATE OF GRACE. They expertly reinvent songs by writers as diverse as John Fogerty (Bad Moon Rising), Cheap Trick (I Want You To Want Me), Hank Williams, Sr. (I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You), Nick Lowe (What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?), George Jones (Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do), and Lyle Lovett (God Will, If I Had A Boat), delivering versions that need to be heard to be believed.
For the first time, several of The Holmes Brothers’ star friends add talents to the sessions. Levon Helm, drummer/vocalist from The Band, joined by his daughter Amy Helm, makes his first vocal recording since recovering from throat cancer with a heartfelt lead on I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages. On the Hank Williams classic I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You, Wendell trades verses with Rosanne Cash in a mesmerizing performance. And old friend Joan Osborne (who has been touring as a vocalist with The Dead and Phil Lesh & Friends) steps out on a bluesy, storefront church version of Those Memories Of You. The Holmes Brothers interplay of their voices with their guests’ is simple, musical magic.
As incredible as they are as interpreters (OffBeat calls them “the best interpretive group working today”), The Holmes Brothers are equally talented songwriters. Exceptional originals Gasoline Drawers, Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart, Close The Door and Standing In The Need Of Love showcase the same true-life stories, depth of feeling, heartbreak and humor found in the timeless songs they choose to cover. With one foot firmly planted in the secular world, The Holmes Brothers layer their songs with rich gospel harmonies and alternately rough-edged and tender vocals, producing what is undoubtedly their richest and most fully realized album.
Sherman and Wendell Holmes were born and raised in Christchurch, Virginia. Their schoolteacher parents fostered the boys’ early interest in music as they listened to traditional Baptist hymns, anthems and spirituals as well as blues music by Jimmy Reed, Junior Parker and B.B. King. They both sang in the church choir. Sherman studied clarinet and piano before taking up the bass, while Wendell learned trumpet, organ and guitar. Sherman studied composition and music theory at Virginia State University, but in 1959, he dropped out and headed to New York for a promising job with a singer named Jimmy Jones (of Handy Man fame). His younger brother Wendell joined him after completing high school. The two brothers played in a few bands before forming The Sevilles in 1963. The group lasted only three years, but they often backed up touring artists like The Impressions, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Butler, gaining a wealth of experience. After The Sevilles disbanded, Sherman, Wendell and a fellow Virginian, drummer Popsy Dixon, continued to play in a variety of Top 40 bar bands—Wendell even toured with Inez and Charlie Foxx (Mockingbird)—until 1979, when the three joined forces and formed The Holmes Brothers band.
Rooted in blues and gospel, The Holmes Brothers’ sound is all their own. The rhythmic foundation laid down by Sherman’s bass playing and Popsy’s drumming perfectly compliment Wendell’s hard-driving guitar solos. But even more gripping than their instrumental prowess is their amazing three-part harmony singing, mixing Wendell’s gruff and gravelly vocals with Popsy’s soaring falsetto and Sherman’s rich baritone creating a multi-layered and ornately textured sound, bringing the soul of gospel music into everything they perform.
In the early years, the band worked primarily at Dan Lynch’s, a New York club that featured weekly jam nights and performances by a wide variety of blues acts, most notably, The Holmes Brothers. More importantly, the club served as a meeting ground for many members of New York’s blues community, including future members of Blues Traveler, Joan Osborne and producer Andy Breslau, who brought the group to Rounder Records.
Since their debut on Rounder in 1989, The Holmes Brothers have worked virtually non-stop. In addition to their four critically acclaimed Rounder albums, they recorded Jubilation for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label in 1992, becoming the first American group to record for the standout world music imprint. In 1994 they joined Van Morrison in the studio on the song That’s Where It’s At for the Real World compilation album, A Week Or Two In The Real World. 1996 found The Holmes Brothers starring in the independent motion picture, Lotto Land, for which they also recorded the soundtrack. The albums all received massive praise. “Mind-blowing,” said the Boston Herald. “Rich and satisfying,” raved The Washington Post. In 1997, Joan Osborne asked The Holmes Brothers to be her backing band when she opened for Bob Dylan.
After signing with Alligator in 2001, The Holmes Brothers released the magnificent Speaking In Tongues, produced by multi-platinum artist—and close friend to the band—Joan Osborne, who also sings backup vocals throughout. With Osborne at the helm, along with Grammy-winning engineer Trina Shoemaker (Sheryl Crow’s The Globe Sessions), The Holmes Brothers created a contemporary album of spiritual soul music. Throughout Speaking In Tongues, the sweet gospel harmonies and classic soul shouting radiate authenticity and passion. Their interplay of voices and instruments is mesmerizing.
Response to Speaking In Tongues was phenomenal. The Holmes Brothers appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman, The CBS Saturday Early Show, as well as National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, A Prairie Home Companion and Mountain Stage. They’ve been the subject of features and reviews in Rolling Stone, Billboard, Newsweek, USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Examiner and countless other publications.
In 2003, The Holmes Brothers recorded versions of Trouble (Cat Stevens) and You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond (Blind Willie Johnson) for the soundtrack album for the popular television series Crossing Jordan. In addition, The Holmes Brothers appeared on the M.C. Records tribute album to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Shout, Sister, Shout!, backing Joan Osborne, Odetta, Victoria Williams and Phoebe Snow.
2004’s Simple Truths found The Holmes Brothers receiving even more attention, as reviews ran in USA Today, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard, New York Post, and many other publications. They appeared on Outlaws And Angels—The Willie Nelson and Friends 3rd Annual Birthday Concert (televised on USA Network and released on CD and DVD), Late Night With Conan O’Brien, World Cafe, Mountain Stage, as well as the nationally broadcasted National Public Radio programs All Things Considered, On Point and Here And Now.
With their deeply soulful singing, spine-tingling harmonies and unsurpassed musicianship, The Holmes Brothers amaze audiences and leave them in a state of utter joy and jaw-dropping disbelief. Billboard declares, “It seems like The Holmes Brothers get more assured and exciting with each passing year. The Holmes Brothers remain a musical force unto themselves.” Their non-stop touring brings this force from concert halls to roadhouse bars, leaving their fervent fans in a state of ecstatic joy.