The germination of the Barr Brothers band is a neat little story of musical serendipity. While living in Montreal, guitarist Brad Barr was captivated by the harp music he heard through his apartment wall. When he knocked on his neighbor’s door, he was greeted by Sarah Page, a classically trained harpist whose playing became the inspiration for “Sarah Through the Wall,” the beautiful opening track on his 2008 solo album, Fall Apartment.
Eventually Page joined Brad, his brother Andrew on drums, and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial to form the Barr Brothers. Their self-titled debut is a multi-layered, nuanced delivery of Americana with just enough modern accouterments to keep most listeners at attention.
The ambient swells of “Beggar in the Morning” eventually give way to a confidently strummed acoustic guitar and Brad’s melancholy vocals. The crystal-clear production swells the open spaces behind the notes, and fans of the Barr brothers’ original band, The Slip, will certainly appreciate the subtle contours of this pitch-perfect opener. “Ooh, Belle,” an appropriate title given its approximation of the hushed elegance of Belle & Sebastian, leads effortlessly into “Old Mythologies,” which recalls Simon and Garfunkel with its winsome tone and pleasantly quiet vocal harmonies.
The album’s anchor track, “Give the Devil Back his Heart,” provides a sly uptick from the soft-edged opening tunes. The band evokes both Africa and the American South as they twist the blues structure through a sort of Konono No.1–type prism. The sonic adventurousness of the track should provide an intriguing avenue for the band’s live show, especially with Barr’s intriguing, angular guitar work at the end.
“Cloud (for Lhasa)” briefly moves the album back down into a quieter mode; the extra-delicate melody is tinged with the subtle sounds of wide-open country spaces, and the raspy whispering quality of the vocals may remind some listeners of Iron and Wine. With elements of Two Gallants, Tom Waits and even the True Blood theme song, “The Devil’s Harp” echoes “Give the Devil Back His Heart” and serves as the first in a trio of songs that, each in its own way, play off the concepts and sounds of delta blues. “Lord, I Just Can’t Keep from Crying” is straight out the juke joint, and “Deacon’s Son”—featuring a guitar solo that would do Ali Farka Toure proud—picks up yet again on the rhythmical and melodic themes of “Give the Devil.”
The sweet closing tracks are punctuated by the crowning final minute of “Held My Head,” a gorgeous blending of instrumentation. Throughout the album, precise musicianship, appealing song-craft and intertwining waves of melancholy and joy create a balanced collection of ten songs, an excellent early-morning album to accompany the rising sun.