The Holmes Brothers' unique synthesis of gospel-inflected R&B harmonies, accompanied by good drumming and rhythm-based guitar playing, gives them a down-home rural feeling that no other touring roots music group can duplicate. Brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes, along with drummer Popsy Dixon (the falsetto voice), are the group's core members, although they occasionally tour with extra musicians. All three harmonize well together. The Holmes Brothers are so versatile, they're booked solid every summer at folk, blues, gospel, and jazz festivals, as they play a style of music that is a gumbo of church tunes, blues, country, funk, reggae, roots rock, and soul. Although people like Bo Diddley and especially Jimmy Reed were early influences on Wendell and Sherman, gospel music also played an important role in their respective upbringings.
Although they'd been performing in Harlem for years, the Holmes Brothers -- originally from Christchurch, VA -- have only recently become international touring stars. Thanks to a fair deal at Rounder Records, the group released five recordings for that label, beginning with a 1989 release, In the Spirit. When this album made waves and got them off and running on the festival and club circuit around the U.S. and Europe, they followed it up two years later with Where It's At (1991), Soul Street (1993), and Promised Land (1997). The group's career has been aided by the interest of people like Peter Gabriel, who recruited them for his WOMAD world music festivals in England and who also recorded them in a gospel context on the album Jubilation, for his Real World subsidiary of Virgin Records in 1992.
Joan Osborne was also a supporter of the group. Early in her career Osborne befriended the Holmes Brothers and eventually took them on tour as her backing band when she opened for Bob Dylan in 1997. She produced the group's first release on Alligator Records, Speaking in Tongues, in 2001. The group then released the seminal Simple Truths in 2004. Three years later, State of Grace, an album of both originals and covers (including ones by Hank Williams, Cheap Trick, Lyle Lovett, and Elvis Costello), came out. A fourth Alligator release, Feed My Soul, appeared early in 2010. ~ Richard Skelly & Al Campbell