THE HOLMES BROTHERS "State of Grace" Alligator

Friday, March 9, 2007

ON THEIR NEW ALBUM, "State of Grace," the Holmes Brothers return to the approach that worked so well on 2004's "Simple Truths." The trio of guitarist Wendell Holmes, bassist Sherman Holmes and drummer Popsy Dixon -- lead singers all -- reunites with producer Craig Street of Norah Jones and Cassandra Wilson fame to adapt songs that would seem unlikely for a group as steeped in blues, R&B and gospel as the Holmes Brothers.

This time the trio transforms Lyle Lovett's "God Will" into a church-choir arrangement, John Fogerty's "Bad Moon Rising" into a stomping Cajun two-step and Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" into a romantic R&B ballad. Unlike last time, special guests are on hand to help out. Rosanne Cash sings a duet with Wendell Holmes on Hank Williams's "I Can't Help It if I'm Still in Love With You," Joan Osborne helps turn Bill Monroe's bluegrass number "Those Memories of You" into a New Orleans boogie, and the Band's Levon Helm helps the Holmes Brothers revisit the old hymn "I've Just Seen the Rock of Ages." Helm's daughter Amy and her bandmates in Ollabelle add vocals and picking throughout the album.

The album's strongest songs, however, are two originals by Wendell Holmes. "Standing in the Need of Love" is classic electric blues, with the composer's crackling guitar solo and impatient vocals softened by his partner's harmonies. Even better is "Gasoline Drawers," the finger-snapping R&B tale of a man who loves his woman so much that he'd "run through hell in gasoline drawers" before he'd hurt her.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Iota.

Listen to an audio clip of the Holmes Brothers

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