The Holmes Brothers burst onto the national scene in 1989 with In the Spirit (Rounder), a fiery fusion of churchy ecstasy and sensual R & B, but their professional music career extends much further back than that. Guitarist Wendell and bassist Sherman worked the R & B circuit for the better part of 25 years, appearing with such notables as Jimmy Jones and Inez Foxx. In 1980 the brothers hooked up with drummer Willie "Popsy" Dixon and struck out on their own. All those years of scraping by may be responsible for the sense of triumph that characterizes their sound now: even when they mine the depths of despair (as in their cover of Big Maceo's "Worried Life Blues" on their 1991 Rounder disc, Where It's At), the possibility of redemption shines through. Stylistically, they can go from tough Chicago blues shuffles all the way to gospel delirium: Wendell seasons his leads with precise chords, building a rich harmonic base for his improvisational flights; Sherman coaxes easy-walking lines from his bass as confidently as he pumps out foot-popping funk. Dixon drives everything with the perfect combination of aggression and subtlety--even at his most polyrhythmic he lets the beat manifest itself rather than forcing it on the listener. And when the three men sing in harmony, Dixon's soft falsetto croon lays a warm blanket over Wendell's gritty tenor and Sherman's deep-bottomed baritone. The resulting vocal blend can pierce the soul ("None but the Righteous") or chill the spine ("Drown in My Own Tears"). Friday, 9:30 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. Saturday, 9 PM, Frankie's Blue Room, 16 W. Chicago, Naperville; 630-416-4898. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Laurie Asprey.