Righteous! The Essential Collection offers a savory taste of the HolmesBrothers, a venerable blues trio with a twist. From the first moments ofthe disc's opening track, "Got Myself Together," you know that this is notyour typical "blues" band: the driving funky shuffle of the first verse iscut by a tight, three-part harmony "Yeah!" that proves these guys would beas comfortable in a sweltering Southern gospel revival as in a smokyChicago club. Throughout this compilation, drawn from the group's fouralbums recorded for Rounder (In The Spirit, Where It's At, Soul Street, andPromised Land), the Holmes Brothers—Popsy Dixon and brothers Wendell andSherman Holmes—offer the mature fruits of their decades of collaboration,and demonstrate their ability to move effortlessly between the blues,gospel, funk, soul and country.
Each member of the Holmes Brothers brings unique qualities to the group.Wendell Holmes offers solid, rhythmic guitar work throughout, reminiscentat times of Jimmy Reed (especially in "A New and Improved Me"), and acracking, rough-edged voice that's both passionate and pained (a perfectblues combination). Sherman Holmes is steadfast on the bass, and givessmoky, slurred vocal lines, featured best in his gospel-tinged "PromisedLand." Wendell and Sherman are the songwriters of the group, and theiroriginal works and arrangements are featured on eight of the disc's 17tracks.
But the Holmes Brothers's shining moments come through the vocal work ofdrummer Popsy Dixon. On "Train Song," the spare piano and bass support aclassic soul tenor straight out of a Stax session. He captures the feelingsof loss and hope for redemption of the Tom Waits-penned tune ("It was atrain that took me away from here/But a train can bring me home"). However,it is his falsetto—sometimes used in a doo wop fashion ("I SurrenderAll"), sometimes reminiscent of Philip Bailey ("When Something Is WrongWith My Baby")—that brings an extra degree of emotional depth to thegroup's performances. The highlight of the album is the devastating gospellament "Don't Spare Your Sword." Dixon's heart-rending vocals, deliveredacross his range, express his grief over a wasted life of drugs anddespair, and cries for both punishment and mercy.