The Holmes Brothers

Saturday, March 13; BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups

Mar 10, 2004 at 4:00 am
Imagine a songwriters' circle in which Collective Soul, Townes Van Zandt, Bruce Channel (the guy who had the big hit with "Hey Baby" back in 1962), Hank Williams, Gillian Welch, Jimmy Reed, Willie Nelson, Bob Marley and Jim Reeves sit around until all hours of the night swapping material. Now imagine a gospel-drenched soul act soaking all these songs up and putting its own spin on the best songs from these writers, plus sharing original compositions entirely worthy of the company. In this imaginary world, albums such as the new release from the Holmes Brothers, Simple Truths, just might be the norm instead of the exquisitely delightful surprise it has turned out to be.

It's not as though the Holmes Brothers just sprang out from under a rock to come up with this new record. The trio has been working together for some thirty years and releasing fine albums for almost half that time. But some of us -- and we know who we are -- have not been paying close enough attention until now. Suddenly, the elegant simplicity of the Holmes Brothers' playing and singing sounds perfect. It's a case of the times catching up to the act, not the other way around.

Sherman and Wendell Holmes play bass and guitar, respectively, and Poppy Dixon holds the drum chair. The three of them are masters at understatement, delivering propulsive basic grooves or lugubriously delicate backing as necessary. The members take turns singing lead, and their harmonies, along with their unique ability to complement each other's ideas, are the result of working exclusively together for so long. To magnificent effect, the two actual Holmes brothers have the ability to blend their voices into one, with identical phrasing that underpins Dixon's high-tenor harmonies. With these ingredients, the Holmes Brothers turn their attention to the great strains of American music: blues, gospel, country, soul and, yes, rock & roll. To these guys, all the seemingly disparate genres are merely variations on their approach to revealing musical truth.

There's nary a wrong turn taken on Simple Truths, which leads to the obvious conclusion that these sixtysomething musicians have been great all along, while the rest of us have been completely unobservant of their talent. We'll have the chance to catch up when the Holmes Brothers hold court in the intimate confines of BB's. We fully expect this will be one heck of a live revelation.