Artist: Sherman Holmes
Album: The Richmond Sessions
Release Date: 7/21/2017
This is the first solo album from 77-year old Sherman Holmes, the long-time bassist and vocalist for The Holmes Brothers. While it’s dedicated to the memory of his brother Wendell and bandmate Popsy Dixon, it’s not at all mournful but instead uplifting, and surprising. It’s not often that you hear the vocals of a seasoned yet vital black singer with bluegrass instrumentation and a black female gospel choir. Sherman says, “Sounds pretty good for 77-year old, doesn’t it? I was overjoyed to do this, because I didn’t know how I going to restart my career. We chose a good collection of songs that we wanted to do. We got some gospel in there, and some bluegrass. It’s a good mix of the Americana music, as I like to call it.”
Produced by Jon Lohman, Virginia State Folklorist and Director of the Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the album draws on Holmes’ roots in the state. The project began in 2014-15 when all three of the Holmes Brothers took part in state-sponsored apprentice program. Sherman stayed with the project after the other two passed away. Lohman had a vision for this very Virginia-centric album, bringing in the 50-year standing Richmond’s “first family of gospel,” – the Ingramettes, and adding top-shelf bluegrass players, Rob Ickes on dobro and Sammy Shelor on banjo along with B3 player Devon Harris, whose roots are in hip-hop. It’s quite a combination.
The 11 selections cover a broad spectrum of American music in keeping with the spirt of The Holmes Brothers. They include Vince Gill’s “Liza Jane,” The Stanley Brothers’ “White Dove,” Jim Lauderdale’s “Lonesome Pines,” Ben Harper’s “Homeless Child,” and the classic blues-soul of “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and “Dark End of the Street” (sung with long-time Homes Brothers friend Joan Osborne). Classic gospel tunes “I Want Jesus” and “Wide River” trace to Sherman’s foundation in the gospel church. Notably Marvin Gaye’s “Don’t Do It” is done to honor Levon Helm of The Band and “Green River” from CCR was one of the last tunes The Holmes Brothers recorded for a never-released album. “Rock of Ages” is performed with Rev. Almeta Ingram-Miller, who’s taken over for her late mother Maggie (the song’s author) as the leader of The Ingramettes.
This project is flawlessly rendered. It’s not often that an album of covers deserves repeated listens like this one does. The versatile spirit of the Holmes Brothers lives on.