Music » Livewire

The Holmes Brothers

Sunday, April 1, at the Beachland.


The Holmes Brothers
  • The Holmes Brothers
The Holmes Brothers' music can be complex, but it never lacks roots. One reason may be that seasoned siblings Sherman and Wendell Holmes and drummer and falsetto relief Popsy Dixon came up in Baptist and Pentecostal churches in Virginia. They've been based in New York for more than 40 years, and, though they've been on the blues circuit for a good 20 years, they've never compromised their authenticity. Their latest album, Speaking in Tongues, is the missing link between the Talking Heads and the Staple Singers. It's churchy, it's modern, and the more you listen to it, the more you hear how grit and polish can coexist. Produced by contemporary blues-rock singer Joan Osborne (one of the Precious Three who harmonize so angelically behind the Brothers), it's part-gospel, part-blues, frequently rock and roll. It also features the occasional drum loop, a passel of Ben Harper tunes, and a greater emphasis on the spiritual than was found on their earlier Rounder records. Their Alligator debut -- a departure from the rigorously purist fare more characteristic of the Chicago-based label -- is thematic in that it celebrates the glory of God. But it's all over God's map, with Dylan's "Man of Peace" next to a terrific Popsy take on Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down" and the O'Jays' "Love Train." The Brothers are blues-rock eclecticists who have covered everyone from Jimmy Reed to the Beatles, countrypolitan Dallas Frazier, and blue-eyed soul writer Dan Penn. No matter what they sing, you believe them. A show by the Holmes Brothers can be fitful -- the flow depends on the set list, which, you can imagine, is pretty diverse after all these years and venues -- but it never promises less than expert, joyous clatter.

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