The Sherman Holmes Project – The Richmond Sessions Album Review

The Sherman Holmes Project – The Richmond Sessions

M.C. Records MC-0082

11 songs – 53 minutes

www.shermanholmes.com

Even though Sherman Holmes has delivered his music around the globe for the better part of the past 60 years, won numerous Blues Music Awards and has been the recipient of America’s foremost honor for a musician, the NEA National Heritage Fellowship, he makes his recording debut as a soloist on this album.

It’s a bittersweet event for the 77-year-old bass, keyboard and trumpet player, a native of Christchurch, Va., after his world was turned upside down in 2015 after being a member of the beloved Holmes Brothers band for decades along with younger sibling Wendell, the group’s guitarist and organ player, and fellow Virginian Popsy Dixon on percussion. Both Sherman and Wendell were based out of New York starting in the early ’60s. Formed in 1979, the band’s career included stops at Rounder, Stony Plain and Alligator records.

Sharing vocals and delivering a warm brand of gospel, soul, bluegrass and blues laced with Piedmont overtones, they enjoyed a worldwide following that was derailed that January when Popsy succumbed to bladder cancer, followed quickly by Wendell who lost his battle with pulmonary hypertension that June.

Fans can rejoice, however. Even though the Holmes Brothers are no more, Sherman has picked things up basically where that group left off. Like the predecessor, this ensemble delivers its music – and plenty of joy – by unabashedly taking familiar tunes from several genres and reworking them into songs that become totally their own.

Sherman’s surrounded by an all-star cast for this one, which was produced by the Virginia Foundation For The Humanities under the direction of John Lohman and released on the M.C. Records imprint after being captured at Richmond’s Montrose Studios.

The lineup includes Rob Ickes on dobro, Jared Pool on guitar and mandolin, Brandon Davis on guitar, Sammy Shelor on banjo, Jacob Eller on upright bass, Calvin “Kool Aid” Curry on electric bass, DJ Harrison on Hammond B-3 organ and percussion, Stuart Hamlin on piano, David Van Deventer on fiddle, Lohman on harmonica, and Randall Cort and Clarence Walters on drums.

They’re augmented by guest appearances by Joan Osborne for vocals on one track and The Ingramettes: Almeta Ingram-Miller, Cheryl Marcia Maroney and Ann Cunningham. The Richmond-based gospel group provides powerful backing vocals on several cuts.

A fiddle solo introduces the traditional gospel number, “Rock Of Ages,” which gets a full bluegrass treatment that features some tasty picking. Sherman shares vocals with the Ingramettes. The message — about crossing the River Jordan — pays unspoken tribute to Wendell and Popsy. “Little Liza Jane,” another familiar tune from the American songbook is up next with a version credited to country superstar Vince Gill. Sherman delivers it atop a sparse arrangement as a true blues song of longing.

The Marvin Gaye classic, “Don’t Do It,” written by Motown’s Holland, Dozier and Holland, features a funky arrangement with the Ingramettes doubling Holmes vocals on the choruses before they take you to church with the slow, solemn and steady “I Want Jesus.” A pair of Memphis classics — Albert King’s “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” delivered with a Piedmont feel, and James Carr’s “Dark End Of The Street,” penned by Chips Moman and Dan Penn — change the mood dramatically. The latter, a straight-ahead slow blues, features Osborne in duet.

Grammy-winning bluegrass legend Jim Lauderdale’s “Lonesome Pines” is a fiddle-driven waltz before Sherman attacks John Fogarty’s Creedence Clearwater Revival hit, “Green River,” in a fairly traditional manner. The water theme continues with the gospel-tinged “Wide River,” aided by the Ingramettes, before bluegrass pioneer Carter Stanley’s “White Dove” and Ben Harper’s “Homeless Child” bring the disc to a close.

Don’t be misled by the fact that all of the material has been recorded previously. Like the Holmes Brothers before him, Sherman and bandmates put a fresh spin on everything that’s come before. Available through Amazon, iTunes and other online retailers, The Richmond Sessions is a tour de force, and strongly recommended.

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