LIVE: The Holmes Brothers @ Club Helsinki, 5/2/14

Review by Fred Rudofsky

Alligator Records recording artists the Holmes Brothers made their annual stop at Club Helsinki on a Friday night earlier this month, bringing their impeccable mix of blues, soul, country and gospel to an adoring crowd in Hudson.

Wendell Holmes (guitar, piano and vocals), Sherman Holmes (bass and vocals) and Popsy Dixon (drums and vocals) have been playing as a group for over thirty-five years, and their command of harmonies is second to none. The show opened with an approach that this reviewer has never seen in over twenty years of following the band. With Wendell on telecaster, the three gathered around the center stage microphone for a wonderful rendition of Ted Hawkins’ “I Gave Up All I Had”; each took a verse and then sang the chorus together, their voices conveying the solemn wisdom inherent in the lyrics.

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Going to their respective instruments, the Holmes Brothers delivered a rendition of “Amazing Grace” that was jaw-dropping. Wendell’s guitar sounded like a fourth voice during two extended solos; Sherman’s bass lines were models of restraint; and Popsy’s falsetto from behind the drum kit was ebullient. Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” simply rocked, with dashes of Chuck Berry and Mickey Baker in the guitar licks that flowed from Wendell’s hands. “Soldier of Love,” one of the highlights of the recently released gem Brotherhood, showcased Popsy’s effortless vocals. Equally impressive were “Drivin’ in the Drivin’ Rain” (a powerful lead vocal by Sheman), “My Word is My Bond,” “Lickety Split” and “Stayed at the Party” (a cautionary tale by Wendell about youthful hedonism set to a jubilant tempo on the baby grand piano), all of which are originals on the new album, which the crowd was told by Wendell Holmes “could extend your life to 99 1/2 years!”

Blues, country and gospel standards also informed the remainder of the first set. Popsy’s take on “Going Down Slow” was a tour de force, his voice hitting low and high notes with ease, matched by Sherman’s adventurous melodic approach and Wendell’s series of cathartic solos. T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday Blues” was anything but downcast; indeed, Popsy was swinging the beat to uptempo style and singing with a winner-takes-all attitude. Wendell delivered the Jim Reeves hit “He’ll Have to Go” with gusto, playing a series of assured guitar solos, including one in which he made his telecaster sound eerily like a steel guitar. At the piano, Wendell reached deep back in time, channeling the soul of Ray Charles on “Come Back Baby” and later trading verses with Popsy during an uplifting “Since I Lay My Burden Down.”

The second set, which oddly did not feature originals, was nonetheless eclectic and engaging. “It Hurts Me Too” was deep blues at its finest, a strong platform for Wendell’s echoing solos. “Got Myself Together” brimmed with abandon: Sherman’s bass was funk incarnate; Wendell played rhythm and lead seamlessly; and Popsy took off on a snare solo that would’ve made the late Levon Helm, a big fan of the band, holler loud. All three voices raised the roof on “You’re the Kind of Trouble,” a prime cut from 2010′s Feed My Soul, and then backed Popsy on a brilliantly arranged cover of the Beatles’ “And I Love Her.” By request, Wendell took the lead on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” with all three singers nailing the ache of the classic refrain. “Jesus is on the Mainline” was a rousing call to hope, while the extended encore, “May God Be with You,” featured Wendell, Popsy and Sherman each singing a verse, and then joining together with some help from the crowd to hum the melody “like we do back home.”

THE HOLMES BROTHERS SET LIST
I Gave up All I Had (Ted Hawkins)
Amazing Grace (traditional)
Big Boss Man (Jimmy Reed)
Soldier of Love (Geraint Watkins)
Drivin’ in the Drivin’ Rain (Sherman Holmes)
My Word Is My Bond (Wendell Holmes)
Goin’ Down Slow (St. Louis Jimmy Oden)
Lickety Split (Wendell Holmes)
Stormy Monday Blues (Aaron “T-Bone” Walker)
He’ll Have to Go (Joe and Audry Allison)
Stayed at the Party (Wendell Holmes)
Come Back Baby (Walter Davis)
Since I Lay My Burden Down (traditional)
INTERMISSION
It Hurts Me Too (Tampa Red)
Got Myself Together
You’re the Kind of Trouble (Kennerley, Wright and Wright)
And I Love Her (Lennon and McCartney)
??? (instrumental)
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams)
Hold It
Jesus is on the Main Line (traditional)
May God Be with You (traditional)

One Response to “LIVE: The Holmes Brothers @ Club Helsinki, 5/2/14”

  1. MusicFan says:

    Can’t go wrong opening a show with a Ted Hawkins cover! Great article for those of us unable to attend. Alas.

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