When you review a lot of music in one genre in a short space of time, you start to run out of ways of saying the same thing over and over again. How many ways are there to describe how good a harmonica sounds or how many adjectives are there available, and applicable, to blues music?
So I have to admit to a little trepidation when I slipped my copy of the latest Holmes Brothers’ release State Of Grace into my disc player. I had listened to the disc once about a month ago and liked it. Now that it was time to review it, I was going to need to find ways of saying so without spouting clichés.
Thankfully the Holmes Brothers made that easy, because they aren’t simply a blues band, or any such easily identifiable label. Their music contains elements of the blues, but also the easy flow of the soul/jazz music that could be called a New Orleans sound; more than a smidgen of Gospel influences in some of their arrangements, and definitely Soul and Rhythm and Blues.
They’ve distilled three or four genres of African American music to make a flavour that’s uniquely their own. They’re not afraid to cross over genres as well and tackle music that you wouldn’t think fit into their repertoire and make it their own.
There are far too many bands out there that have been promoted as “defying easy definition” and when you hear them, they’re no different from six hundred other bands that have defied definition in the past. But the Holmes Brothers genuinely make it difficult to place them neatly anywhere.
What are you going to do with a band that is as comfortable doing a cover of Cheap Trick’s song “I Want You To Want Me” and George Jones’ “Ain’t It Funny What A Fool Will Do”? Call them a Blues band? I don’t think so.
Now they obviously don’t do direct imitations of either old George or Cheap Trick, and unless you knew the lyrics you’d be hard pressed to recognize “I Want You To Want Me” as the same song Cheap Trick had so much success with, which only serves to make their version all the more impressive. To be able to take such a distinctive song and make it your own is an accomplishment in its own right.
None of the songs they cover suffer any for their Holmes Brothers’ treatments. Nick Lowe’s “What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding” has never sounded so good, and as they prove with their rendition of John Fogerty’s “Bad Moon Rising”, which they perform more like a jug band then anything else, they know how to put zest into something you’ve heard done by a million other bands over the years.
While the Holmes Brothers are great to listen to, they have augmented their sound on this disc with some voices that couldn’t compliment them better if they had been chosen to be in the band from the start. Roseanne Cash adds her sweet tones to Hank William’s “I Can’t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You”, Joan Osborne lends a hand on the old Bill Monroe number “Those Memories of You” and on “I’ve Just Seen The Rock Of Ages” Levon Helm and his daughter Amy sit in. (this marks Levon’s first recording since his recovery from throat cancer)
But this is still a Holmes Brother album; Wendell and Sherman Holmes and Popsy Dixon, make music that’s both soulful and sweet. They’re not going to fit anybody’s definitions of what their music should or shouldn’t sound like except their own. But there aren’t many bands out there that can make you want to spontaneously start to dance just listening to their music because it seems more natural than standing still or walking when you hear it.
State Of Grace might just describe the state we’re in when we listen to a Holmes Brother’s CD. It went on sale in stores yesterday so do yourself a favour and pick it up. In this day and age all of us could use a little grace.