Preview The Richmond Sessions by The Sherman Holmes Project.
The Richmond Sessions by The Sherman Holmes Project
The Americana music genre is like the country for which it's named: an amalgam of musical styles that reflects our diverse heritage. You would be hard-pressed to find a better example of the diverse roots of Americana than Sherman Holmes’s The Richmond Sessions, a recording that seamlessly combines country, blues, gospel, rock and soul into a crisp and heartfelt package of tunes.
The album marks a milestone. It’s Sherman’s first solo recording and his first work since the passing of his brother and musical partners Wendell Holmes and Popsey Dixon, both in 2015. Together, the trio performed as the Holmes Brothers, making a name for themselves as masterful interpreters of roots music. This album, which is dedicated to Wendell and Popsey’s memories, continues the tradition with a joyful spirit.
Part of the pleasure of this record comes from the artful and totally natural way in which musical genres are mixed together. Holmes draws from a diverse group of songwriters—Motown legends Holland-Dozier-Holland, John Fogerty, Vince Gill and Ben Harper—as well as traditional tunes. A strong seam of old-time country runs through many of the songs, which are driven by acoustic instruments. But the music also incorporate the sounds of gospel, soul and the blues, sometimes all at once. In short, the album is a treasure trove for roots music lovers.
The Richmond Sessions kicks off with “Rock of Ages,” a traditional spiritual or gospel tune that is arranged bluegrass-style with banjo, fiddle and dobro trading bluesy licks and fills throughout. On this tune, and throughout the recording, Sherman’s voice soars and swells with a . And he is accompanied here, and elsewhere, by the Legendary Ingramettes, a trio whose voices are razor sharp.
That song is followed up by “Liza Jane,” which is played in a lazy and funky bayou-blues style that is worlds away from the peppy (and poppy) honky-tonk of Gill’s original recording. “Don’t Do It” recalls The Band’s re-reading of the Marvin Gaye/Motown hit, but with a stronger backbeat and shimmering back-up vocals in place of the horns.
Holmes pays homage to Americana’s spiritual roots throughout the album, too, most directly on “I Want Jesus” and “Wide River to Cross.” The Ingramettes really shine on these tracks as does Sherman’s weathered and soulful voice. However, you also hear gospel influences on his version of the soul tune, “Dark End of the Street,” which seems oddly fitting as the lyrics are about worship, albeit of an earthy and illicit sort. Joan Osborne sweetens the track, contributing an understated back-up vocal that complements Holmes perfectly.
The album also offers plenty of blues sounds, most notably on “Breaking Up Someone’s Home.” Here the early-70s R&B track is played with country twang and a strong beat. The Grammy-nominated dobro master Rob Ickes and acclaimed banjo player Sammy Shelor play call-and-response during the vocal and then trade licks with fiddle and harmonica joining in for a long outro jam. The ensemble also rocks out on “Green River,” which takes on a pleasant, back-porch vibe. (This also was the first time that I actually understood all the words to the Credence Clearwater Revival classic.)
On the album’s promo sheet, Holmes is quoted as saying, “Sounds pretty good for a 77-year-old, doesn’t it?”
Actually, he’s being far too modest. The truth is that it sounds damn good, period.