The Barr Brothers are performing at the Newport Folk Festival this year. I started going to the festival as a volunteer about six years ago and it is easily my favorite music festival. Newport feels a lot more relaxed than other ones I’ve been to (Bonnaroo). It’s also significantly more comfortable (Boston Calling, brick is not my favorite material to lay on). At last year's festival Jack White took time to commend the Newport crowd for allowing him to walk about the festival unaccosted and said he finally understood why people love this festival so much. So there’s something special about Newport.
The Barr Brothers playing NFF is important to me because, until now, the Barr Brothers and I have never really been in sync with each other. I'm always a few years behind where they're at musically and our few serendipitous encounters have been spectacular.
I’d like to take you on a journey. A journey of growing up musically with the constant backdrop of the ‘Brothers Barr’. Most of the tracks referenced here are in the following playlist. Those that I could not find are embedded.
Their current act is called The Barr Brothers but Andrew and Brad Barr have been making music with various people under various names for years. The Slip was (still is?) a nationally touring avant-rock band made up of Andrew Barr on drums, Brad Barr on guitar and Mark Friedman on the bass. The Slip was active from 1996-2012 and just played their first show in 3 years at the High Sierra Music Festival earlier this month.
The first Slip song I heard was Jumby off of Angels Come on Time (2002), their 3rd full length release. The two previous albums contained a lot more instrumental content and focused heavily on the jazzier/jam side of things. I enjoyed both those albums but it was Angels Come on Time that solidified my unending fandom of The Slip and all things Barr. Angels still embraces the freeform style of previous efforts but the song structure starts to focus more on Brad's lyrics. Unfortunately, this album is not available to stream anywhere so you'll have to listen here. Below is Jumby, a wonderful instrumental I once used for a surf video. Also included is Take a Beetle to the Badlands, which shows the shift into more traditional song structure. There is also some amazing instrumental work on this. I'm not sure there is another 15 consecutive minutes of music I enjoy more than the first three tracks of this album though they are slow burners.
Take a Beetle to the Badlands(2002)
Most of the the tracks that will be referenced are contained in this Spotify Playlist.
The Slip followed up with a duo of live albums. Alivelectric and Aliveacoustic in 2004. These albums really express the vast swath of styles these musicians are capable of. You can hear a six minute robot trance, Headshot and then quickly move into playful americana about the innocence of childhood on Before You Were Born. Then follow that with the only steel drum solo I can really stand on Torque.
Shortly after the live albums release, The Slip were snowed in with singer/songwriter Nathan Moore. They began playing together and it was during this blizzard that Surprise Me Mr. Davis was born. Surprise Me Mr. Davis threw the The Slip into a singer/songwriter folk area that I think they had been exploring with parts of Angels Come on Time but never fully inhabited. Ambrosia Drunk is off of their self titled debut. It's hardly recognizable as The Slip, though there are hints in the bass lines and finger picked guitar. It's a stripped down affair. Nathan Moore's voice leading The Slip's instrumental backing is an entrancing combination.
Two years after releasing SMMD with Nathan Moore, The Slip released Eisenhower via Bar/None Records. Eisenhower is hands down one of my favorite albums of all time. Brad's lyrical prowess is in it's highest form. There's pop song structure but it's deconstructed so a song like The Original Blue Air which sounds like a constant marimba/bass space freakout climaxes to the calm of Paper Birds which again slowly builds to a rapid fire recap of imagery used throughout the album. My personal favorite track is Airplane/Primitive. It's got a fantastic guitar riff that acts as a bass line, scattered drums and dips just enough in the final third to bring you back up to speed. The Slip toured extensively behind this album into 2007. It felt like as soon as I really started to appreciate all these songs the Slip were gone.
After a year Brad Barr released The Fall Apartment, recorded after Andrew and Brad moved from Boston to Montreal. It's 11 instrumental acoustic guitar tracks. The album begins with Sarah Through the Wall; this is the first hint we receive from Brad that something more might be going on. It will be a few years before this comes to fruition. The melody for this song was inspired by music Brad heard filtering in through his wall. He learned the melody and mustered up the courage to go next door and present it to the artist. Sarah Page answered the door and was unimpressed, Brad went back to his apartment, fleshed out the song and returned to a still underwhelmed Sarah. Since Sarah wasn't going to use it, Brad did. It's a delicate and impeccably executed track.
Shortly after this SMMD began touring and working on a demo. I was so lucky to have caught them in Northampton, MA at the Iron Horse. I was blown away by the energy of the show and was smart enough to pick up a Demo. I cannot find this demo anywhere and I think it showcases how tight and creative SMMD was. Two songs are linked below. Thats the Way reminds me of Sam Cooke and has beautiful guitars and harmonies. When a Woman is a dark and driving song with some of the richest guitar tremolos I've heard. SMMD would release their second full length the next year but it included neither of these songs.
When A Woman(2010)
That's The Way(2010)
A year later The Barr Brothers released their self-titled album, starring Andrew and Brad Barr as well as the unimpressed harpist Sarah Page (through the wall) and bassist and multi instrumentalist Andres Vial. Once again the influences of past Slip and SMMD albums is apparent but the singer/songwriter aspect has become central. The Barrs draw on years of experience to produce impeccable tracks. Beggar in the Morning kicks off the album with a softly picked and beautiful song. You hardly realize that a tape recorder is being blasted into a guitar's pickups to create ambient delay pads. On the other end of the spectrum is the blues infused burner Lord,I Just Can't Keep from Cryin which features some excellent slide guitar.
We now arrive at their latest full length, 2014's Sleeping Operator. The Barr Brothers fuse their avant-rock and technical prowess with sharp songwriting. The album opens with hypnotic instrumental Static Orphans, which features Sarah's intricate harp playing. This transitions directly into Love Ain't Enough, a straightforward rock piece featuring some of Brad's more simple and powerful lyrics.
So there you have it. My ~10 years listening and enjoying the music of the brothers Barr. I can post more from the hard-to-find albums if there's interest. Just hit me up on Twitter @bookmil until I can be a real person and set up email.
For now I'll just keep praying to Apollo, the Greek god of music, that there's a Barr Brothers and Slip co-headline tour with SMMD opening. A man can dream...
Even The Darkness Has Arms https://youtu.be/U54MKLq2Syo?t=9m27s