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January 2007

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The Holmes Brothers
State Of Grace
Alligator Records

The Holmes BrothersOn their first CD in three years, New York Cityís Holmes Brothers sound similar in style, format, and content to their prior Alligator release, Simple Truths. This is due, in part, to Craig Streetís encore role as producer. Other similarities include the same rough and gritty sound (on some songs) as well as delving into the songbook of Hank Williams. However, this time an extra helping of Americana is thrown into the mix. As well, there is a country feel in the music due to four covers by country & western songwriters.

Youíll hear rootsy sounds, bluesy shuffles, redemptive fulfilling lullabies, and acoustic stomps. Topics addressed via intense lyrics include how couples can drift apart after spending many years together and being haunted by past loves. The Brothers share lead vocal duties throughout the 55-minute disc. As with their previous releases, the vocal harmonies are touching and renewing. Sherman Holmes (bass) has a deep and firm baritone voice. Wendell Holmes (guitar) has a surly voice, but it is warm and friendly. For me, Popsy Dixon (drums) has the best vocals. They tremble like a stone pillar rocked by a gospel choir on "Three Gray Walls." Later, they strike your conscience on "God Will."

"Smiling Face Hiding A Weeping Heart" is a would have, should have, could have, tale of woe about a bridge that all couples must cross sooner or later. On "Close The Door," the vocals harmonize as much as the acoustic strings. Itís an amazing combination of the animate and inanimate being in accord. With Glenn Patschaís accordion and Larry Campbellís fiddle, Creedance Clearwater Revivalís classic, "Bad Moon Rising," is transformed into a foot-pounding piece of Americana. Patscha also contributes inspiring piano, organ, guitar, and songwriting. He is the secret ingredient behind the album. The Canadian-born artist is a member of Ollabelle Ė other members of the band contribute backing vocals on the album Ė and has long been active in the New Orleans music scene.

The Holmeses have been preaching about "Peace, Love, and Understanding" for years. Their completely re-arranged version of the Nick Lowe-written Elvis Costello hit is calm, and it could motivate world leaders into action. Another completely reworked hit is Cheap Trickís "I Want You To Want Me." The rhythm has been changed to be deeply romantic, respectful, and loving. Catherine Russell Ė who has previously recorded with the group Ė adds fiery backing vocals to "Gasoline Drawers." On "I Canít Help It If Iím Still In Love With You," Rosanne Cash and Wendell perform a lovely vocal duet. Equally as pleasant is Campbellís mandolin. The bandís good friend Joan Osborne proves to be an adept lead vocalist on "Those Memories Of You." Likewise, Levon Helm shows his vocals are still strong on "Iíve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages."

State Of Grace once again proves The Holmes Brothers to be an American institution. The easily-likable songs and richly-textured vocal harmonies will appeal to fans of many musical styles. This album should show up in the number one spot on several charts.

--- Tim Holek

 

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