It's a good thing this incredibly talented and soulful Virginia trio didn't come around back then, because they rely equally on both blues and gospel. Sometimes they get off in the same song on the old contradiction, patching their smooth, heavenly voices above raunchy 12-bar grooves; sometimes they alternate rock and gospel songs to shift moods.
The Holmes Brothers, who formed in 1980 after years of backing up Inez "Mockingbird" Foxx and other not-quite-as-famous singers, have been paying meticulous attention to detail since they started putting out albums in the late 1980s.
Wendell Holmes' short guitar solo in the Beatles' "And I Love Her" goes from mimicking the original melody to taking it apart like a bebop saxophone riff. The pedal steel gives "Easy Access" the right amount of hillbilly, and the electric piano in the funky title track has the same spooky, swimming feeling as the Doors' "Riders on the Storm."
The band knows to preserve Popsy Dixon's soaring tenor so it doesn't draw too much blood all at once. Whenever he sings, on Tom Waits' "Train Song" or Wendell Holmes' traditional gospel "Thank God for You," it's like a friendly voice from the past. And the closing "I Surrender All," with its amazing three-part harmonies, proves good and evil can co-exist in the same church. Or juke joint.
-- Steve Knopper