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I wasn’t really sure what to make of The Barr Brothers (Brad and Andrew Barr, Sarah Page, and Anders Vial) as they entered the WERS studio on a Tuesday afternoon. Even though the band is a modest number of four members, they continued dragging more and more instruments into the studio until there were enough to satisfy a small orchestra. The types of instruments brought in by this supposed folk brother band confused me even more. They had their guitars and harmonicas of course, but on top of that they carted in a harp, a petal organ, and a whole trunk full of percussion props for drummer Anders Vial to play with, including a “milk pot from the 1920’s,” an anklet of noisemaking seashells, and a bamboo-like structure.
With this unusual collection of instruments, they started off by playing their song “Beggar in the Morning” for us which has been getting a lot of attention from the indie-folk crowd. The song begins with a slow crescendo of instruments, most interestingly a violin or cello bow sliding slowly up the side of a cymbal. The song continues to build as it goes on, with soft drums and layers of harp, guitar, and pedal organ all blending together smoothly. There’s so many layers to the song you’d expect twelve people to be in studio with them instead of just the four. They also performed “Give the Devil Back his Heart” in the WERS studio. It’s a dark song, something you’d expect to hear in a movie while the hero travels through a desert, dying of thirst. The love recording is highlighted by Brad Barrs prayer-like wailing and Vial’s drum solos, performed with his multiple percussion toys.
Both songs are from their 2011 album, The Barr Brothers. After forming in Montreal, they recorded the album themselves in a makeshift studio. Brad Barr notes that they shied away from “the nice recording studio where every minute you got in there it was kind of a tense experience, and you knew how much money you were spending.” Instead, they prefer their own place where they can “experiment and stretch out.” On the recording experience, Barr remembers that they “didn’t know any rules about it, but we knew how we wanted our record to sound, so we went for that.”
The songs on the album usually begin with Brad Barr coming up with a few lyrics and melodies on his acoustic guitar, taking breaks to “pound [his] head against the wall until something gives way,” before finding time to meet with the band while on the road. The Barr Brothers have had a very busy schedule of concert dates this year. They just concluded their tour through Europe where they stopped in cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Liverpool (not without taking time to stop for French pastries). They continue with their heavy touring schedule through the States, stopping by the Brighton Music Hall in Allston a while ago, and then heading into Canada for more shows through the summer.