NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

April 3, 2014

A brotherly love of music

Holmes Brothers to perform at Belleville Church this weekend

A gospel-blues trio known for nearly 40 years of music is gracing a Newburyport stage this weekend.

The Holmes Brothers will perform Saturday night at Belleville Congregational Church as part of the Belleville Roots Music Concert Series.

The band is composed of brothers Sherman and Wendell Holmes, joined by Popsy Dixon on the drums. The trio’s 12th and latest album, “Brotherhood,” is a tight mix of jazzy solos; soulful guitar; and the bluesy vocal play between Wendell’s gravelly tones, Sherman’s smooth baritone and Dixon’s flying falsetto.

The band’s sound combines a number of classic Southern elements.

“We play all kinds of music; it’s a mix of everything: gospel, blues, country, whatever we throw in the pot,” Sherman Holmes said. “I think it represents rural America. Southern, rural America, a lot of it does gospel, ‘Amazing Grace’ and some of the real blues songs we do.”

The group’s take on “Amazing Grace” shows the members’ range: The song “evolved” over the course of many live repetitions, Holmes said, before making it to the album as a blues-inspired exchange between the three “brothers,” as each takes on a verse in his own style, guiding the bass, guitar and drums through improvised rhythms.

The brothers got their start in a Virginian farming community called Christchurch, living along the same road that George Washington took to accept Gen. Charles Cornwallis’ surrender in the Revolutionary War. Christchurch is a close-knit community with ties to the ocean: Residents were primarily fishermen, farmers and oystermen, making their living off the Virginia soil and water. The Holmeses were no different.

“When we got out of school in the summertime, we worked,” Sherman Holmes said. “That’s what was the school vacation was, really: to help farmers bring in their crops. ... We were driving tractors as little boys. Nine, 10 years old, we’d be out in the field.”

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