Speaking In Tongues

The Holmes Brothers

Alligator Records, 2001


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Although I do not go out of my way to listen to gospel music (and I am admittedly not a fan of contemporary Christian music), I do occasionally find a gospel-oriented disc crossing my desk here at the Pierce Memorial Archives. What I often find is that such discs surprise me in ways I didn't expect.

Take The Holmes Brothers, for example. This trio puts out a wonderful noise that one might not believe is coming from such a small group - and on a label noted for blues music, no less! Speaking In Tonguesmy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 is the kind of disc that reminds me just what this style of music should be: a celebration that doesn't get too preachy.

Oh, sure, there's going to be a lot of singing about Jesus and of God throughout many of this album's 13 tracks. But there is something so organic in the delivery and performances of vocalist/guitarist Wendell Holmes, vocalist/bassist Sherman Holmes and vocalist/drummer Willie "Popsy" Dixon that literally pulls the listener in, hands them a tambourine, and encourages them to get up and, if nothing else, just revel in the music.

And what joyful music it is! Whether you're listening to their spins on material from other artists (Ben Harper's "Homeless Child," Bob Dylan's "Man Of Peace," Sister Rosetta Thorpe's "Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down") or the retro-power of one of their originals ("Speaking In Tongues," "Jesus Got His Hooks In Me"), it's hard not to be infected by the happiness of these tracks. You don't necessarily have to be religious to appreciate these songs; if anything, just the "joyful noise" says more than any sermon could. Put it this way: what I hate most about CCM music is being hit over the head with a religious message. The Holmes Brothers strike a nice balance between the underlying religious theme and the captiveness of the music.

All of this said, there is one minor slip on Speaking In Tongues. The Holmes Brothers do an admirable job on their cover of The O'Jays's "Love Train," except it's performed with too plodding of a beat. It's strange that they would choose to tone down their delivery on a song which all but begs for a faster tempo.

I might not go out of my way to listen to gospel, but even after one listen to Speaking In Tongues, The Holmes Brothers had guaranteed themselves a prime place in the Archives, amidst the CDs I often go back to for one reason or another. If you ever wondered what it was about gospel music that made people want to get up and dance, Speaking In Tongues will answer that - and don't be surprised to see yourself cutting the rug while this disc plays.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Alligator Records, and is used for informational purposes only.