Living Blues Living Blues #250 : Page 50

new releases to a slow blues groove—a perfect sign-off from a true master of American music. — Robert H. Cataliotti THE SHERMAN HOLMES PROJECT The Richmond Sessions M.C. Records – MC-0082 The Holmes Brothers, National Heritage Fellows, have always been genre benders, steeped deep in the wellspring of American roots music, the place where country music meets gospel, meets blues, the very place where rock ’n’ roll was born. Now that Sherman Holmes is alone, he carries on that soulful amalgam in his first “solo” record since the Holmes Brothers ended their triumphant and adventurous musical journey following the deaths of his brother Wendell and their longtime partner Popsy Dixon in 2015. The Richmond Sessions is dedicated to their memory, and Sherman Holmes is totally in his element. The album is produced by Jon Lohman, Virginia State Folklorist and Director of the Virginia Folklife Program at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, brought in an arsenal of fierce Virginia-based instrumental-ists—Grammy-winning Dobro player Rob Ickes and the brilliant banjoist Sammy Shelor, to name a couple. Lohman intrinsically understands Sherman and managed to find the perfect cast for his comeback. Sherman Holmes sings lead vocals and plays bass and keyboard. New York– based singer Joan Osborne, a longtime friend of the Holmes Brothers, joins them on a fiery rendition of Dan Penn’s The Dark End of the Street . The Ingramettes, a gospel group featuring the Rev. Almeta Ingram-Miller, are a powerful building block of this ensemble, an amazing choir that firmly injects this album with soulful, passionate and heartfelt singing. When Sherman sings I Want Jesus to Walk With Me as if it was his last song for eternity, while Rob Ickes’ Dobro lets out wailing, sorrowful glissandos, and the Ingramettes sing the Amen choir, it’s a magnifi-cently moving moment, a soul-stirring song that will bring tears to a Hells Angel. Musical delineations into tightly divided genres is a marketing construct. Sherman Holmes does not abide by externally imposed limitations. Nor does Rob Ickes. On this album, his lap steel slide playing is masterfully on target, sensitive, colorful and vibrant, showing that modern acoustic American string music long ago left those restrictions behind. Simply superlative sliding. They get to the heart of Sherman’s love for country music on Lonesome Pines and then tackle Marvin Gaye’s Don’t Do It . The old Creedence Clearwater Revival hit Green River will make John Fogerty proud, and the notes advise that this was the last song JANIVA MAGNESS Blue Again Blue Élan / Fathead Records – BER 1045 Janiva Magness knows how to get inside a song, inhabit it and make it her own. Blue Again showcases Magness’ powerful eloquence, as she delivers her interpretations of blues classics from artists as diverse as Etta James, Bo Diddley, Freddie King, Nina Simone, Al Kooper and Joe Hinton. While these ver-sions of the songs are clearly Magness’ way of honoring her roots, her treatment of the songs makes them her very own; she honors tradi-tion at the same time she takes the music to a new level, illuminating it and opening it up for us to hear again, as if for the first time. The album opens with I Can Tell , a song most closely associated with Bo Diddley. David “Kid” Ramos propels the song with his simmer-ing, down-and-dirty guitar licks, and Magness’ commanding vocals capture the raw power of the song. Magness showcases her gritty vocals and her vocal range on the song, but it’s her gift for phrasing that shines through on this track; she knows how to get the most out of a bar of this music. Magness delivers a version of Al Kooper’s I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know that captures the pathos, passion and hope of the original. Guitarists Zach Zunis and Garrett Deloian weave their slow burning riffs un-der and around Magness’ sultry vocals. Magness’ version outshines the original. Her vocals mirror the sex-drenched lyrics on Nina Simone’s Buck (credited to Simone’s husband/manager Andy Stroud); the song captures the tempestuous re-lationship between two lovers and the hold that they have over each other. Magness displays her vocal prowess on the album’s final track, Pack It Up , a song most associated with Freddie King, and she delivers a straight-ahead blues shout at the end of the song. Blue Again demonstrates why Magness is one of our best contemporary blues singers. Her vocal power and range allow her to take on any song; her phrasing and pacing enable her to make the most of the songs she’s sing-ing. Her ear for the just-right tune to interpret is impeccable, and her deep acquaintance with the blues allows her to play with a song’s structure to find its best sonic skeleton and add flesh to it. —Henry L. Carrigan Jr. the Holmes Brothers had worked on together. Sammy Shelor and Ickes help on Ben Harper’s anguished Homeless Child as the fabulous Ingramettes bring us back to church, with Ickes again playing boldly and with clarity. Sherman Holmes may be 77 years old. He grieved the loss of his brother Wendell and best mate, Popsy. Here he is, energetic, passionate as ever, with the same relentless energy and vibrancy that was the hallmark of the Holmes Brothers. This well-produced album is remark-able on many levels. Sherman Holmes still kicks ass! As he said, “That’s my life, man.” —Frank Matheis ROBERT FINLEY Age Don’t Mean a Thing Big Legal Mess Records – BLM 0534 Singer-guitarist Robert Finley hails from Bernice, a small town in north-central Louisiana. Upon entering the army in 1970, he found himself in Europe servicing helicopters and playing in a band rather than being shot at in Vietnam. When he returned home to Bernice, however, he was unable to sustain a musical career. He turned to carpentry to earn a living until failing vision prevented him from working and prompted him to pick up his guitar again. In 2015, he came under the um-brella of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, which helped him bring his music to a wider audience and ultimately led to the creation of this splendid new CD on BLM. Although Finley had been playing as a solo blues act, BLM’s Bruce Watson was determined to present him as a soul singer on his first record, and to that end brought him to Memphis and teamed him with a stellar group that included Jimbo Mathus along with Scott Bomar and the Bo-Keys. Watson’s 50 • LIVING BLUES • August 2017

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