October 10, 2012

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #18 :: The Barr Brothers

The music of Montreal’s The Barr Brothers unfolds slowly, richly, and often jaw-droppingly. When the idea arose for us to tape a special chapel session during the Meadowgrass Music Festival in the tiny old adobe church on the grounds of La Foret, nestled in the woods of Black Forest (look!), I wasn’t very familiar with the band. Our sound guys were huge fans of the brothers’ previous work with The Slip, and I just knew that they had a harp player I wanted to hear a bunch more from. Their redolent, gossamer sound is absolutely perfect for the church — compelling, and achingly beautiful.

So there alongside the brightly painted folk-art frescos in the dusty, rarely-used chapel, with us and the miller moths, Andrew and Brad Barr were joined by the other half of the band: classically-trained harpist Sarah Page (who Brad met when she shared an apartment wall with him as her neighbor), and Anders Vial on keys, percussion, and other assorted instruments. They make some kind of magic when they all play together.

This session was recorded in the last days of spring, on Memorial Day weekend — but I knew as soon as I heard it that this was definitely an autumn collection of songs, for when the leaves were orange and the air smelled of woodsmoke somewhere. The season is here, and this one is extremely special.


Ooh, Belle
To start things out with some mind-blowing sonic coolness, that sound sending shivers down your neck at the beginning of this song is a long thread that Brad wrapped around the guitar string and slowly pulled back and forth to play the notes — riveting.

There’s something in this song that feels as round and golden, as unflawed and naive as a garden at the start of it all. “The nearer we came to salvation, the further we fell,” Brad sings.

Old Mythologies
I bought a Joseph Campbell book (The Hero With A Thousand Faces) for $2.15 at a used bookstore the other weekend, on the recommendation of one Joe Pug, who was shocked I hadn’t read it. Lately I have been very curious about how these “old mythologies” and stories of heroes can weave their ways into our lives, and what we choose to keep or break apart. Flowing out of the innocence of “Ooh, Belle,” the hand-slapped rhythms that Andrew and Anders lace through this song feels like a heartbeat accelerating.

Let There Be Horses
Anders found an old organ in the little room annexed to the main chapel, covered in dust and full of good histories, so we ran a mic in there so he could play the keys here on it. Once he figured out all the flip-switches, it was wheezy and perfect — and I deeply enjoyed weaving some of the uniqueness of the building into the song itself.

And this chorus? “Oh, let me hear music like you hear music, like you were just born / and oh, let there be horses, let there be danger, let there be one song.”

YES. Nothing more that needs to be said about this song: completely stunning, a benediction.

Don’t Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Whoaaa. This is one of my favorite versions of this song (off Young’s 1970 album After The Gold Rush) that I’ve ever, ever heard. I know these are fighting words but this is arguably more sublime than the original. In addition to the pendulous tension the plucked harp notes add throughout, those three-part harmonies during the extended breakdown? Holy shit. Each time through adds another layer and becomes even more heart-stopping. The two brothers, in particular, sound like fractal rays splitting off the same light.


(see “Old Mythologies” on Kevin Ihle’s video page)

[marvelous photos also by Kevin Ihle; more on the Fuel/Friends Facebook]

Subscribe to this tasty feed.
I tweet things. It's amazing.

Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

View all Interviews → View all Shows I've Seen →