Friday, September 30, 2011

The Barr Brothers Beg A Listen

Listening to the sometimes harp-backed blues-infused folk rock ballads and stories played by Brad and Andrew Barr, it is almost hard to imagine them throwing near bare-knuckled blows in the basement of their Providence, Rhode Island, home.

They didn't discover rock until the following year. It was no less physical, but with a little less blood.

Rock also got them out of the basement and into criss-crossing North America as a spirited improv-based rock trio, mostly self-taught by playing cover songs inside near empty bars and small clubs. Their journey spans almost three decades.

Near the end of it, it would take fate and another few years before they would be drawn to Montreal, where they would eventually stumble into visceral harpist Sarah Page and multi-insrumentalist Andres Vial. Together, the unlikely quartet would form the Barr Brothers.

The Barr Brothers self-titled indie album begs to raise the bar. 

Beggar In The Morning first caught some attention after the band teamed up with Stephen Bircher, a visionary who makes remarkable art out the bones of roadkill, to produce a music video under the direction of Sebastian Lange. It's one of the most surreal and hauntingly beautiful videos produced this year.

Beggar In The Morning is only the beginning of their experimental folk rock strung across their 11-track esoteric and organic album that weaves in unexpected sounds into its pristine production. Bound together by Brad Barr's magnanimous gift as a songwriter, every song seeps into your skull.

Old Mythologies is a deeply textured and emotive folk ballad. Give The Devil Back His Heart fuses uptempo retro rock to loosen the mood. Lord, I Just Can't Keep From Crying scoots the album toward heavy-handed blues as if it was produced off a back porch.

It wasn't. The Barr Brothers collected up a set of friends from the Montreal music scene and recorded it all in a boiler room. A handful of talent showcased includes Elizabeth Powell, Nathan Moore, Miles Perkins, Jocie Adams, and Emma Baxter.

That's the way it works up there, with many musicians making the rounds in each other's bands and side projects. Even the Barrs are better known for their work with Surprise Me Mr. Davis (with Moore and Marco Benevento), and, of course, as The Slip (with Marc Friedman). Maybe, not as much going forward.

The Barr Brothers have put something together that's quite remarkable for their first self-titled release. While they've always produced great work, Brad Barr has found the right measure in his vocals and sharpened his guitar. Andrew Barr has redefined his approach to percussion, driving moods while holding the beat.

The addition of Vial is smart, as is Page. The bonus track even showcases Page's skills on harp. The piece is named Sarah Through The Wall, a clever tune how she and Brad Barr met. They were neighbors in an apartment complex.

The Barr Brothers' Self-Titled Debut Lights Up 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

While the album is lighter than what I listen to most days, this eclectic offering of songs that brings in a collection of indie talents, stretching them across a half dozen or so genres while remaining cohesive and addictive, is nothing less than visionary.

You don't have to fall in love with every track to appreciate the craftsmanship, just find the tracks that slip inside whatever you listen to on most days. In some ways, though, not buying the album cheats an experience that is unlikely to be reproduced any time soon.

You can find The Barr Brothers self-titled release on iTunes. The CD and vinyl edition are on Barnes & Noble. You can also find various formats of The Barr Brothers on Amazon.
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