Blues Bytes


December 2017

The Sherman Holmes Project
The Richmond Sessions
Virginia Foundation for the Humanities

Sherman Holmes

I've made absolutely no secret of my love for the music of The Holmes Brothers, dating back to when their first album, In The Spirit, arrived in my mailbox nearly 30 years ago. Listening to that album over and over was easily a life-changing experience for me. My affinity for their music was cemented the first time I saw them in person. What a wonderful group of musicians they were. Sadly, we lost two of the three primary members of the group in 2015, guitarist Wendell Holmes and drummer Popsy Dixon, both passing away within months of each other.

Fortunately, an array of musicians in the Holmes' home area of Virginia got the idea to gather at Montrose Studios in Richmond, to give a voice to the remaining member of The Holmes Brothers. Thus, The Sherman Holmes Project came together to record the absolutely fantastic The Richmond Sessions (Virginia Foundation for the Humanities), undoubtedly one of the best yet lesser-known albums of the year.

If you're familiar with the music of The Holmes Brothers, then you know what to expect here --- a very diverse collection of both contemporary and traditional songs, with heavy emphasis on gospel, blues, soul, and all kinds of traditional music. Mr. Holmes wasn't featured as much on vocals on The Holmes Brothers albums, but here we find that he's still got the vocal chops to handle the variety of songs selected for this album. All 11 cuts deserve to be discussed, so settle in for an extensive review of The Richmond Sessions.

Kicking off the CD is the traditional "Rock of Ages," beginning with David Van Deventer's fiddle intro and highlighted by the exquisite dobro playing of Rob Ickes and banjo from Sammy Shelor. Our ears get the first dose of the wonderful backup singers, The Ingramettes, who contribute their melodic voices throughout the disc. Soulful bluegrass gospel at its absolute best. Ickes also provides the accompaniment on the Vince Gill number, "Liza Jane." I really like how Mr. Holmes attacks the vocals on this more subtle tune, showing strength and range belying his 77 years.

The harmony vocals of The Ingramettes provide a powerful intro to the Marvin Geye Motown classic, "Don't Do It," a song that's perhaps more commonly known for The Band's cover version on both their Rock of Ages and The Last Waltz live albums. It's funky and soulful, so different from the previous cuts but with that gospel foundation still very much in place. There's more of an electric sound here with guitar from Jared Pool and harmonica from Jon Lohman.

Mr. Holmes goes back to his deep gospel roots with the traditional "I Want Jesus." While I would love to hear brother Wendell and Popsy harmonizing behind him like back in the day, The Ingramettes do a fine, fine job, especially Almeta Ingram-Miller whose vocals just plain soar through the octaves. The sparse instrumentation of guitar, fiddle, banjo and dobro is extremely tasteful. My, oh my!

We then shift gears completely with the soul classic "Breaking Up Somebody's Home," although this version gets more of an old timey / bluegrass vibe with Ickes' sublime dobro, Lohman's harmonica  and Van Deventer's fiddle accompaniment. The backing musicians turn this chestnut into a completely different song from the oft-covered original.

Rock icon Joan Osborne has always been a big fan of The Holmes Brothers, having appeared on albums and live performances with them. Here, she joins in with Mr. Holmes on a cover of still another soul anthem, "Dark End of the Street." It's elegant in the power of the vocals and simplicity of the accompaniment. Joan and Sherman really need to collaborate on a full album while it's still possible. Please.

We head back into the mountains for the Jim Lauderdale tune "Lonesome Pines," with Mr. Holmes again showing how much he, his brother and Popsy were influenced by country music. Ickes is just plain outstanding on the dobro here and The Ingramettes join in to pack a wallop of soul to this number. Mr. Holmes injects a gospel feeling into John Fogerty's "Green River," with Ickes again shining on dobro. You all know the original tune, now just imagine hearing it in a backwoods church. Yeah, that's it.

We head back down to the riverside with the traditional gospel number "Wide River," with Mr. Holmes here setting down his bass guitar and playing very nice churchy piano. This arrangement comes from the late Maggie Ingram, mother of the leader of The Ingramettes. The blending of Mr. Holmes' vocals with the backing singers is truly inspirational, and will have even the most fervent sinners down on their knees begging for mercy. Say amen, somebody. Not straying too far from the gospel tent, the next cut is a cover of the Carter Stanley bluegrass/gospel number "White Dove," with Ickes again treating us to outstanding dobro accompaniment while Van Devender joins in on the fiddle and The Ingramettes harmonize with Mr. Holmes.

Closing this superb album is a version of Ben Harper's "Homeless Child." Mr. Holmes saves some of his most impassioned vocals for this one. The instrumental highlights here come from the dobro, fiddle, banjo and harmonica, all tastefully complementing the vocals.

The Richmond Sessions is absolutely positively a stunningly beautiful album and should get plenty of nominations for blues album of the year. I know that it'll be at or near the top of my list. This one would look good under any blues fan's Christmas tree.

--- Bill Mitchell


[Pick Hit][What's New][Surprise][Flashback][Feedback][Back Issues][Home Page]


The Blues Bytes URL... 
Revised: December 11. 2017 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright 2017, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.