THE HOLMES BROTHERS at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, April 12). $13.50. 416-598-4753. Rating: NNNNN
quirky new york pop singer joan
Osborne isn't someone who immediately comes to mind when you think of the Holmes Brothers' sweaty R&B grind, but that's who they called to produce their new gospel record.
Stranger still is the fact that Speaking In Tongues (Stony Plain) turned out to be one of the Holmes Brothers' most accomplished recordings, if not their very best.
Why Joan Osborne? Apparently they go way back -- long before What If God Was One Of Us? became an annoying radio hit. And since they had no label to please, they could make their own choice.
"Years ago, Joan used to come to the jam sessions we'd put on at Dan Lynch's bar in New York," recalls Sherman Holmes, "and we'd encourage her to sing.
"When Joan was producing a gospel record for Bettina Ross, she called us in to do the music. I don't think the album sold too well, but it sounded great. So we asked Joan if she'd like to do a record with us. She said she would if it was a gospel album."
The combination definitely clicked. Beyond the shrewd Ben Harper cover suggestions, Osborne, with the assistance of on-point engineer/mixer Trina Shoemaker, managed to capture in the studio the gritty rawness of a Holmes Brothers performance -- something they haven't been able to do since their In The Spirit (Rounder) debut.
"I remember telling Joan that we would trust her judgment so there was no need to hold back. She listened closely to what we were doing, and if she heard something that wasn't right, she'd tell us.
"She made some suggestions about changing certain chord structures and trying different rhythms, which were very helpful. That's what a producer should do. I might've met Ben Harper before but I wasn't really familiar with his music. When Joan brought us his songs, we just tried to interpret them in our own way."
It's been a year now since Speaking In Tongues was recorded, so the Holmes Brothers are starting to think about the next project. They haven't ruled out the possibility of finally making that bluegrass record they've always wanted to do.
"We had Allison Krauss do a track with us before and I really like what she does. I'd love to do a bluegrass album, but Alligator wants to do our next record, and I'm not sure if (Alligator boss) Bruce Iglauer would be into that. But you never know -- he'd never put out a gospel album before Speaking In Tongues, so maybe we can talk him into putting out a bluegrass record, too."