Holmes Brothers ‘Brotherhood’ (Alligator) 4/5

Holmes-BrothersVirginia born and raised Brothers Sherman (songwriter and baritone vocalist) and Wendell (bassist) set up the group thirty-five years ago in 1979 with falsetto vocalist and drummer Popsy Dixon making up the trio. Eleven albums on and the fifth in a row recorded for Chicago-based Alligator records, this new album finds the group excelling at what they do best, combining soul-blues, gospel and R & B elements into a cohesive whole. Influenced by the likes of B.B. King, Junior Parker and Jimmy Reed, quality is the name of the game here and this is no better illustrated than on the superlative and ever so classy soul ballad ‘Soldier of Love, an outstanding composition that lingers long on the mind. Only marginally less enticing is the mid-tempo ‘Lickety Split’ that enters into Robert Cray soul-blues territory with aplomb. Melodic harmonies abound on a cover of the old Stax chestnut composed by William Bell and Booker T, ‘My kind of girl’ and there is acoustic guitar accompaniment on the Ted Hawkins number ‘I gave up all I had’. Early R & B sounds are evoked on ‘You’ve got to lose’ with piano vamps and handclaps galore while the Hi records sound is revisited on the Curtis Salgado composition ‘Drivin’ in the drivin’ rain’ with authentic 1970s style keyboards and drums. Gospel hues are never too far away, though, and surface on a sedately-paced version of ‘Amazing Grace’. A strong album all around and what that showcases the versatility of the Holmes Brothers. Little wonder, then, that they have shared the stage with artists as renowned and diverse as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Steve Earle, Al Green, Merle Haggard, Ben Harper and Willie Nelson among many others. Tim Stenhouse