Hailing from Montreal, folk act The Barr Brothers brought new life to Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday night when they played a powerful show with guest opener Shannon Lay. The Barr Brothers consist of American brothers Andrew and Brad Barr, and Canadian harpist Sarah Page. With quiet intensity, the band offered a sampling of some of their best work in their evolved, electric approach to Appalachian folk.
Opening for the evening was California-based singer-songwriter and guitarist Shannon Lay, whose ethereal vocals and thoughtful songwriting conjure an image much like the title of her latest album. Living Water was released in September and follows Lay’s debut release earlier in the year. Playing electric while accompanied by Devin Hoff on bass, Lay took an attentive crowd through tranquil sounds like the album’s haunting title track as well as an enchanting cover of Johnny Cash’s “Sunday Morning Sidewalk.” Other highlights included the dreamy and bittersweet “Recording 15” as well as “Caterpillar,” a song she wrote for the newborn baby of a close friend in an effort to explain the complexities of life. “Life is like the sea, ever changing in itself and in all of its surroundings,” she explains to the child; “Full of hope, of possibility, the odds of good and bad are matched; it either creates, destroys, or delivers.” Lay’s recipe for beautiful music is her unique combination of chilling honesty, clear emotion, and bright personality.
The Barr Brothers took the stage to a captivated audience with additions to their band including bass, pedal steel, and occasional accompaniment by a horns section, adding an even greater depth to their Delta folk sound. Perfectly capturing the atmospheric quality of their new album, their vibe ranged from passionate to creative with a touch of whimsy. Released this fall, Queens of the Breakers is their third full-length album since Andrew and Brad began their collaboration with Sarah Page in 2011. The band additionally made room for material from their 2014 album, Sleeping Operator, including songs like fan favorite “Even the Darkness Has Arms.” With fast-paced strumming and the gentleness of Brad Barr’s relaxed, rough-hewn vocals, the song glides through poetic lyrics: “People will raise a whole lotta hell about the water and the windmill; and although I stab quixotically, it hurts no one but me.”
From Queens of the Breakers, the band played a collection of songs that felt at once vast and intimate. “Maybe Someday” brought a slower and more seductive energy to the show with a heavy, mysterious rhythm and powerful lyrics. “When I woke up this morning the dream was on my mind,” Brad drawls; “beside me was a cigarette floating in a glass of wine. So I picked up my guitar, started strumming out of time; couldn’t find a reason, could only find the rhyme.” For a change of pace, the album’s title track inspired dancing with its infectious rhythm and “Look Before it Changes” captured an eerie folksy vibe with an electronic twist, while “Song That I Heard” took on a brighter attitude with quick, traditional acoustics.
The Barr Brothers finish up their fall tour in North America this month before jumping across the pond for the new year and eventually coming home to Canada in February. Full dates are available from their website, and Queens of the Breakers is out now from Secret City Records.
Article: Anthony Mulcahy