Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Holmes Brothers: Jubilation (Realworld, 1992)

(As published in the Illinois Entertainer ... )

Jubilation (Realworld)

Some regard this quartet of middle-aged dues payers as the last word in authenticity because three of its members have black skin and because they sing with a soulful, rough-hewn intensity.

But if by "authentic" some mean "traditional," they don't know tradition, because in the hands of the Holmes Brothers these timeworn gospel favorites undergo a more than traditional amount of reinterpretation. The well-known melodies remain, but the tempos and instrumentation withstand surprising flourishes.

Recorded at Peter Gabriel's Real World studios, Jubilation sometimes sounds as much like a luau as it does church thanks in large part to the way Gib Wharton's weepy dobro and steel guitar play off Popsy Dixon's light, festive drumming.

A few of these songs--"Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Jesus Is Alright," "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," and "The Power of the Lord Come Down" especially--derive new life from this treatment. But despite trying for eight minutes, the Holmes can't knock the dust off "Amazing Grace," and on too many of the others the soulful, rough-hewn singing merely splinters.

The Holmes' mixed-bag approach works best on the doomy blues numbers "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me" and "I Had My Chance" and on the meditative Sherman Holmes original, "A Brother's Prayer," a heartfelt petition that features an authentic--and refreshingly untraditional--bamboo flute.

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