The Holmes Brothers
Speaking In Tongues
Alligator Records CD ACD-4877, 2001
Dan Macintosh, 2 September 2002
This new Holmes Brothers album reminds me a lot (in the best possible ways) of the most recent Five Blind Boys From Alabama album - especially because of its eclectic song selection. While the 'Bama Boys colored outside the lines by singing both Jagger/Richards and Tom Waits songs on their memorable Spirit of the Century release, the Holmes trio sings three songs written by Ben Harper, one Dylan composition and an old Philadelphia International chestnut - all in their appealingly powerful gospel style.
It should come has no great surprise to see Joan Osborne's name on the producer credits, since her love of roots music goes deep and is no secret to anybody with ears to hear. She does a fine job here in keeping the music soulful, funky and simple.
Most striking is how Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down" is given a burning '70s soul-funk treatment, as Popsy Dixon sings it with his scratchy old soul voice over the popping keyboard rhythms of Rob Arthur.
For the old O'Jays tune "Love Train," the boys slow it down considerably for a thoughtful meditation on the eternal search for world peace. It almost has a post-September 11 sadness to it, as if it will remain little more than an out-of-reach wish for mankind.
Just to prove they haven't forgotten their traditional gospel roots, "King Jesus Will Roll All Burdens Away" is supported by a perfectly church-ready piano-framed performance. The backing singers (calling themselves The Precious Three, and featuring Osborne as one of its members) make themselves into a mighty billowing makeshift choir.
When it came time for this group to record originals here, Sherman Holmes acted as its primary writer. He contributes four worthy inclusions, including the piano-pounding "Jesus Is the Way."
The foot-stomping groove of "Man of Peace" by Bob Dylan proves once again how well Dylan's music travels, and how it can sound right at home within almost any old musical genre. Wendell Holmes gives it a brawling gut-bucket vocal, topping this off with an equally soulful guitar solo.
Along with the Five Blind Boys Of Alabama, the future of gospel music appears to be in wonderfully secure hands just as long as the Holmes Brothers are recording. This is one monster funk master jam, so don't be confused by it's position in the gospel music section.
performers Wendell Holmes, vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, piano; Sherman Holmes, vocals, bass,; Willie "Popsy" Dixon, vocals, drums, percussion; The Precious Three (Joan Osborne, Catherine Russell & Maydie Miles), backing vocals; Rob Arthur, organ, piano, rhythm loops; Andy Breslau, harmonica, on "Homeless Child"; Paul Kahn, electric guitar, and Catherine Russell, mandolin, on "Jesus Got His Hooks In Me"; Maydie Miles, tambourine, on "Jesus Is The Way"
production Produced by Joan Osborne. Engineered and mixed by Trina Shoemaker.
songs Homeless Child · Speaking in Tongues · New Jerusalem · I Shall Not Walk Alone · Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down · King Jesus Will Roll All Burdens Away · Jesus Is the Way · Love Train · Man of Peace · Jesus Got His Hooks in Me · I Want To Be Ready · Thank You Jesus · Farther Along