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The Barr Brothers – The Barr Brothers

on October 10, 2011, 7:59am

In the late ’90s, Boston-area jam band The Slip released an album called From the Gecko, with memorable jazz-rock songs anchored around the talented Brad Barr on guitar and vocals and his brother Andrew Barr on drums. Then, for the next 10 years, the band struggled to find its identity. Reinventing itself as an avant-garde, noisy art-rock band in the early 2000s, The Slip seemed to lose their crucial song-based approach to composing. Along the way, Andrew and Brad moved to Montreal and absorbed the city’s cerebral, acoustic sound into their palette. Recording as The Barr Brothers with harpist Sarah Page and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial, the Barrs have rediscovered their songwriting craft with a gentle, spacious album of Americana-inflected folk and rock.

Ironically, this record full of soft, multi-layered textures finds its greatest success in the perpetuum mobile of electric guitar and electrified harp on “Give The Devil Back His Heart”, a harder-edged tune that masterfully combines a coffeehouse ambiance with an arena rock attitude. But it’s the acoustic instruments that dominate the record, showcased on songs of a warmth and beauty that is refreshing for these Slip alums. Hushed vocals, string drones, and touches of homey piano permeate “Ooh Belle”, which blossoms into an expansive sound of jazzy snare drum and repetitive, circular harp melodies. In contrast, the intoxicating blues shuffle of “Deacon’s Son” recalls Tom Waits-like Americana, with the unlikely pairing of electric guitar and harp on an infectious blues riff.

Brad Barr is an extremely talented guitarist who has little use for Dylan-esque, straightforward acoustic guitar strumming. His accompaniments are always dynamic and include a melodic component, as on the album opening “Beggar in the Morning”. On this track, droning strings and electronically manipulated guitar sounds construct a dreamlike, abstract soundscape, serving as the backdrop for a catchy and bittersweet vocal melody.

Essential Tracks: “Give the Devil Back His Heart”, “Beggar in the Morning”, and “Deacon’s Son”