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- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Righteous! The Essential Collection offers a savory taste of the Holmes Brothers, a venerable blues trio with a twist. From the first moments of the disc's opening track, "Got Myself Together," you know that this is not your typical "blues" band: the driving funky shuffle of the first verse is cut by a tight, three-part harmony "Yeah!" that proves these guys would be as comfortable in a sweltering Southern gospel revival as in a smoky Chicago club. Throughout this compilation, drawn from the group's four albums recorded for Rounder (In The Spirit, Where It's At, Soul Street, and Promised Land), the Holmes Brothers-Popsy Dixon and brothers Wendell and Sherman Holmes-offer the mature fruits of their decades of collaboration, and demonstrate their ability to move effortlessly between the blues, gospel, funk, soul and country.
Each member of the Holmes Brothers brings unique qualities to the group. Wendell Holmes offers solid, rhythmic guitar work throughout, reminiscent at times of Jimmy Reed (especially in "A New and Improved Me"), and a cracking, rough-edged voice that's both passionate and pained (a perfect blues combination). Sherman Holmes is steadfast on the bass, and gives smoky, slurred vocal lines, featured best in his gospel-tinged "Promised Land." Wendell and Sherman are the songwriters of the group, and their original works and arrangements are featured on eight of the disc's 17 tracks.
But the Holmes Brothers's shining moments come through the vocal work of drummer Popsy Dixon. On "Train Song," the spare piano and bass support a classic soul tenor straight out of a Stax session. He captures the feelings of loss and hope for redemption of the Tom Waits-penned tune ("It was a train that took me away from here/But a train can bring me home"). However, it is his falsetto-sometimes used in a doo wop fashion ("I Surrender All"), sometimes reminiscent of Philip Bailey ("When Something Is Wrong With My Baby")-that brings an extra degree of emotional depth to the group's performances. The highlight of the album is the devastating gospel lament "Don't Spare Your Sword." Dixon's heart-rending vocals, delivered across his range, express his grief over a wasted life of drugs and despair, and cries for both punishment and mercy.
In addition to "Sword," the Holmeses deliver several other traditional gospel performances ("None But The Righteous," "Please Don't Hurt Me," "Walk In The Light"), and even the one or two otherwise ordinary-sounding tunes on this disc are enhanced by the band's three-part gospel harmonies. Other highlights of the album include a rousing version of the jump blues classic "Fannie Mae," a Subdudes-esque "Dashboard Bar," a straight rendering of the chestnut country waltz "There Goes My Everything" (featuring bluegrass goddess Alison Krauss on fiddle), and a sultry, down-tempo, blues-soaked rendering of the Lennon/McCartney classic "And I Love Her."
Since the late 1990s, the Holmes Brothers have gained some well-deserved fame, including an appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and work as Joan Osbourne's backing band during her 1997 tour with Bob Dylan. They have recorded two albums that are not on the Rounder label, and therefore are not included in this collection: Jubilation a 1992 gospel album on Peter Gabriel's Real World label, and the Osbourne-produced Speaking In Tongues, released in 2001 on Alligator Records. While these should also be added to the collection of any discerning blues fan, the heady mix of songs about sinfulness and salvation on Righteous! truly makes this an "essential collection" for lovers of American music.