The Holmes Brothers' latest album is their first since the acclaimed 2001 release Speaking in Tongues. Four originals mixed with a diverse selection of cover songs, Simple Truths combines the vocal punch and tasty guitar that marks the group's best work.
Sherman and Wendell Holmes, along with fellow Virginia native Popsy Dixon, have been performing together as The Holmes Brothers since 1979. Simple Truths is the seventh release from the New York-based gospel and bluesmen since they began their recording career a decade and a half ago. All three are stellar musicians and they sing together wonderfully, and the material they chose for the nine songs by other artists is well-suited yet not obvious.
For example, "He'll Have to Go," a version of a song made famous by country singer "Gentleman" Jim Reeves in 1960. On it, the three sing the sad tale of a jilted lover with nice harmonies over straightforward music in a blues style with some nice slide acoustic guitar. They draw elsewhere from the country catalog with "Opportunity to Cry" (a gospel-flavored cover of an early Willie Nelson tune) and the Hank Williams classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."
They also do an acoustic guitar version of Bob Marley's harrowing ghetto lament "Concrete Jungle," turning it into a cross between Dylanesque protest folk and socially-conscious R&B.
The most unexpected covers are of songs by Gillian Welch and rock group Collective Soul. The Holmes Brothers reinterpret Welch's "Everything Is Free" as a beautiful and pained soul number. And following Dolly Parton's 2001 take on "Shine" by Collective Soul several years ago, the Holmes' try their hand at it. Their version falls between Dolly's mountain stomp and the original's arena-ready rock, recasting the song as a beat-driven twangy boogie.
Guitarist Wendell Holmes gives plenty for the listener seeking great playing. An interpretation of the blues standard "Big Boss Man" features a terrific electric slide solo, and "Run Myself Out of Town," one of the disc's originals, is a muscular bluesy rocker.
While many Simple Truths' songs are sad in theme, the sheer musical joy injected into every song by the group makes this Truth a beauty.