June 3, 2012

Concert #638 - The Holmes Brothers at McCabe's Guitar Shop (May 20, 2012)

I was raised on classic soul and rhythm & blues, among other genres, and that is why my DNA contains substantial doses of Otis Redding, Booker T. Jones, Joe Tex, the Staple Singers, Solomon Burke and many others. In today's day and age, though, you'd be hard pressed to find a live concert featuring the old-school black music that's so dear to me. The Holmes Brothers may not have the name recognition of Aretha Franklin or Wilson Pickett, but in terms of giving me the thrill of the good old days, they certainly fit the bill.

One doesn't ofter hear gospel, R&B and electric blues at McCabe's Guitar Shop, but that's what the Holmes Brothers played there two weeks ago in front of a near-sell-out crowd. Well, whoever elected to stay home missed out on an evening of "the real thing", delivered with joy and intensity by brothers Wen­dell and Sher­man Holmes and brother-in-spirit Popsy Dixon, collectively known as the Holmes Brothers:

  • Wendell Holmes - Vocals, Guitar, Piano
  • Sherman Holmes - Vocals, Bass
  • Popsy Dixon - Vocals, Drums

The proceedings kicked off with "Amazing Grace"and "Will The Circle Be Unbroken", played by the Holmes Brothers without the slightest attempt to imitate anyone. What followed was a dynamic mix of original songs interspersed with an intriguing choice of covers, some of which did not sound great to these ears, as they departed much too far from the "original intent". Two cases in point: "I'll Be Back", the Lennon-McCartney tune, and Jim Reeves' "He'll Have To Go".

But there were plenty of other songs that sounded absolutely great to my ears, particularly the classic blues numbers featuring Wendell on vocals and electric guitar. The two songs that worked the best for me were Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man" and Elmore James' "It Hurts Me Too". Other notable highlights were "You're The Kind Of Trouble", Ray Charles' "Come Back Baby" and "Close The Door", an original written by Sherman Holmes.

The Holmes Brothers at McCabe's
Vocal duties were shared by the three musicians, with Wendell and Popsy carrying most of the load. At times, Popsy's falsettos reminded me of the late Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations. I would have liked to hear more of the baritone voice of bassist Sherman Holmes, I really liked his singing.

The set ended with a rousing rendition of their "Had A Good Time Tonight", complete with plugs to purchase their latest album for "twenty Yankee dollars", as they humorously put it. In response to the crowd's standing ovation, the Holmes Brothers came back for a one-song encore, "Precious Lord", delivered by Popsy Dixon from the edge of the stage, away from his drum set.

The smile of cancer survivor Wendell Holmes
Sherman Holmes on stage at McCabe's

Selling and autographing merchandise after the show
The Holmes Brothers must be in their seventies, yet they are still capable of putting on entertaining shows filled with raw energy and lots of good music. If they ever come back to McCabe's, I'll be there.

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