The Richmond Sessions
The origins of this album by the surviving member of The Holmes Brothers goes back to 2014, the year they were honored with a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given in the US for traditional arts. That same year they participated as master artists in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program where they mentored several young musicians. While they enjoyed the performances of those they mentored along with other traditional musicians, not long after in January 2015, Popsy Dixon passed away from cancer and then Sherman's brother Wendell died a few months later of multiple health problems. Sherman in that year continued to participate in the Apprenticeship Program mentoring 11 year old Whitney Nelson, and after backing her at the Apprenticeship Showcase, he was asked to sing a number in honor of Wendell and Popsy, and sat down at the keyboards to sing a traditional gospel number, "I Want Jesus." It was after that performance that Jon Lohman suggested they record this album.
Lohman suggests that in the spirit of The Holmes Brothers, this recording draws on a variety of genres and styles. While true, this recording has a strong bluegrass-Americana feel, with the blues and soul aspects somewhat less prominent. Lohman, besides producing this adds harmonica behind Holmes' vocals, bass and keyboards. Other notable musicians on this include Rob Ickes on dobro; Jared Pool on mandolin and telecaster guitar; Sammy Shelor on banjo; Jacob Eller on upright bass; and David Van Deventer on fiddle. Joan Osborne, long-time friend of The Holmes Brothers, adds her vocal on one track, while the Ingramettes add backing vocals to others selections.
Gospel songs are in fair abundance here ranging from the living bluegrass rendition of "Rock of Ages," with strong dobro and fiddle along with a terrific supporting vocal from one of the Ingramettes, the austere "I Want Jesus," with simple accompaniment (again with dobro prominent) and gospel chorus backing); the traditional African-American gospel rendered "Wide River," and a stunning bluegrass-rooted rendition of Carter Stanley's sentimental ballad "White Dove." There are strong heartfelt performances, renditions of Vince Gill's "Liza Jane" (not the similarly titled New Orleans number) and Jim Lauderdale's "Lonesome Pines." Toss in intriguing versions of The Band's "Don't Do It," and Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Green River," with vocals that would likely have impressed Levon Helm.
There are two deep soul numbers, renditions of "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" (with a intriguing employment of traditional country instruments in the backing), and the James Carr classic, "The Dark End of the Street," with Joan Osborne guesting in support here. The Carr number has also been been one that a number of country performers recorded back in the sixties. The album closes with the Ben Harper composition "Homeless Child," with a powerful lyric, fervent backing chorus and focused backing. It is another heartfelt performance on this strongly performed and moving recording that may transcend classification but one that will enthrall those who simply love good music.
I received my review copy from M.C. Records. This review originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here Sherman Holmes performs "Green River."