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Holmes Brothers earning high blues acclaim

The Holmes Brothers
January 12, 2005 - By ALAN SCULLEY

For the Call

The first time that Sherman and Wendell Holmes heard the tapes of their new album "Simple Truths," the Holmes Brothers were shocked.

"The voices weren't balanced right," Sher-man Holmes recalled. "It was like something a garage band would do, and I don't want to use that term derogatively.

"We were so upset with the way it sounded, we thought it was a conspiracy," he said with a robust laugh. "But it hadn't been mixed, see, so we sort of jumped the gun there. I was really upset. My brother called me like at 12 o'clock that night: 'What hap-pened?'"

Sherman Holmes can laugh at himself now. Before either Holmes brother had a chance to share his feelings with their producer, Craig Street, or their label, Alli-gator Records, mixed versions of the new material started to arrive.

And as the finished version demonstrates, Street and engineer S. Husky Hos-kulds knew what they were doing.

The three-part harmonies of bassist Sher-man Holmes, guitarist Wendell Holmes and drummer Popsy Dixon sound as smooth as ever and their playing is tight, yet lively and not overly polished.

The CD since has gone on to become one of the most lauded releases of the Holmes Brothers' career. It recently was nominated for six 2005 W.C. Handy Awards — the blues equivalent to the Grammy – including Album of the Year, Song of the Year for "Run Myself Out of Town" and Blues Band of the Year.

Still, Sherman Holmes had reason to be sensitive about the rough tracks. The "Simple Truths" project involved a few disagreements over song choices for the CD.

"We fought a lot over stuff that we wanted to put on there, but in the end, I think it's a Holmes' thing," he said.

Sherman Holmes said the group gave final say over the song selection to Street, whose stock as a producer rose notably after he produced Norah Jones' Grammy-winning CD, "Come Away With Me."

The 13 tunes on "Simple Truths" include several unlikely song choices for a group known for blending blues, soul and gospel.

The Collective Soul hit "Shine" is transformed from its original rootsy pop sound into a frisky country-blues shuffle. The Hank Williams classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" gets a shot of adrenaline with Wendell Holmes' gritty electric guitar and soulful vocals providing a completely different feel for this country weeper.

"That's a song we've been doing for awhile," Sherman Holmes said. "But that was the first time we had recorded it."

The covers are complemented by a handful of strong originals, including Sherman Holmes' acoustic blues lament, "I'm So Lonely" and the CD's rollicking opening track, "Run Myself Out of Town," a tune written by Wendell Holmes.

The song choices on "Simple Truths" reflect the diverse musical tastes of the three group members, who had spent some three decades playing music before they got the opportunity to record their first CD.

Natives of Christchurch, Va., Sherman Holmes and his brother formed their first band, the Sevilles, in 1963 and moved to New York City. While the Sevilles lasted just three years, the group in that time backed such touring artists as John Lee Hooker, Jerry Butler and the Impressions.

When the Sevilles disbanded, the brothers hooked up with Dixon to form the Holmes Brothers and after starting out as a top 40 band shifted to their now familiar blues-gospel-soul sound.

It took around two decades of playing the New York City scene before the Holmes Brothers caught the attention of producer Andy Breslau and the Boston-based independent label Rounder Records, which in 1989 released the group's highly acclaim-ed debut album, "In the Spirit."

The Holmes Brothers have been touring steadily ever since, releasing three more CDs between 1991 and 1997 on Rounder Records before being dropped in the late 1990s and moving to Alligator Records for the 2001 CD "Speaking in Tongues."

The Holmes Brothers also recorded a gospel CD, "Jubilation," for Peter Gabriel's Real World label in 1992 and the soundtrack to the film "Lotto Land," released in 1996 on Stony Plain Records.

Sherman Holmes said he doesn't miss the grind of working a day job and then playing four or five nights a week, but "I love the idea of being on the road and recording. I love traveling. We have a great time. When we get in our truck and head out, man, it's like a new adventure."

The Holmes Brothers play at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at BB's Jazz, Blues and Soups, 700 S. Broadway. Tickets cost $10.

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