Album Review: THE HOLMES BROTHERS – Brotherhood

Alligator Records – [Release Date: 15.10.13]

The Holmes Brothers raised the bar of expectations with the outright success of their last album ‘Feed My Soul’. And ‘Brotherhood’ answers all the germane questions of what to do next, as it reigns in their essential ingredients of emotive singing, carefully chosen covers and self penned, gospel inflected material that moves from the mundane to the reverential and fully justifies the term roots rock.

The vocal triumvirate saturates a wide ranging album with an essential gospel feel and deep grooves that on first hearing are pleasant enough, but with repeated plays become addictive.

‘Brotherhood’ doesn’t break any new ground, but subtly envelopes you with insistent grooves and soulful harmonies. It’s an album that celebrates their essential DNA and an enduring musical career by finding a relevant context for their timeless vocals and intricate instrumental accompaniment.

The Holmes Brothers spiritual driven music is given its coherence and accessibility by a musical balance derived from everyday narratives and shot through with a gospel feel, as evidenced by the opening ‘Stayed At The Party’.

The buoyant reflective opener tells a tale of overstepping the mark with the resulting  little pangs of guilt: ‘A little bit of this, a little of that, hanging in the gutter, with gutter rat, I was thinking I wouldn’t be here singing this song, but I stayed at the party a little too long’.

If the above is almost a frivolous opener, the following cover of Ted Hawkins’s ‘I Gave Up All I Had’ is contrastingly heartfelt song evoked by three part harmonies and gospel bv’s

And it’s that carefully percolated style that infuses a funky, soulful album full of the kind of inspired lead and harmony vocals they’ve become famous for. It’s also an album that flows seamlessly over deep grooves and subtle dynamics to glide eloquently between gospel, soul, funk, pop and blues, with an ease born of their natural calling as musicians.

If the band’s core elements are to be found in the titles of their previous Alligator albums such as ‘Simple Truths’, ‘State of Grace’ and ‘Feed My Soul’, then they retain a consistency of both meaning and quality on ‘Brotherhood’.  The Homes Brothers aren’t so much old wine in new bottles – they offer 8 new songs and are diligent in their choices of covers – but they invite you to partake of their own vintage, based on their natural singing ability, their spiritual bent and fine musicianship. In truth, there are maybe 4 outstanding songs on this album, but by the end of 14 tracks, eclipsed by their stage favourite ‘Amazing Grace’, you feel as if you have been sharing a journey. The vocals wrap themselves around a wide variety of styles to draw you in and leave you in no doubt that it could only be The Homes Brothers.

They explore Ike Turner’s ‘You’ve Got To Lose’ as a sumptuous Sherman Holmes bass driven groove, with a starling falsetto and John Ellis sax parts and they are equally impressive on the funky ‘Lickety Spit’ (misspelt on the track listing), which is underpinned by Glenn Patscha’s keyboards. Geraint Watkins’s ‘Soldier of Fortune’ also brings unexpected variety and crossover potential with its reggae lilt, Popsy Dixon’s crisp percussion and Catherine Russell’s nuanced bv’s.

Wendell Holmes contributes 6 outstanding songs, of which the layered sound and doo-wop/gospel backing vocals on the smouldering ‘Gone For Good’ is one of the best, while he digs deep on ‘Loving You From Afar’, which is a gospel-soul duet with Felicia Holmes.

The lyrics of the hard driving ‘My Word Is My Bond’ are almost humorous given they were penned by a septuagenarian and the band leans into the guitar led blues of  ‘Darkest Hour’. They further revel in a positively exuberant arrangement of Sherman’s ‘Last Man Standing’, before the signature, vocal tour de force of ‘Amazing Grace’.

Ultimately it’s the joy de vivre of its making, that makes ‘Brotherhood’ special. In an era when the search for authenticity is often strained, The Holmes Brothers music rings out loud and clear to remind us that their will always be a place for gospel in contemporary roots rock. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra  

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