The Barr Brothers didn’t bring the kitchen sink Tuesday night at Jammin’ Java, but one got the distinct impression they’d be willing to try.
The dazzling Montreal-based alt-folk quartet is a product of happenstance—singer-guitarist Brad Barr randomly moves next to harpist Sarah Page, hears her practicing through the drywall, finds himself in a fit of inspiration—and sheer ingenuity.
Most strikingly, there was Barr manipulating the “string-bow”—a technique, copped from a movie about gypsy culture (“Latcho Drom”), wherein he pulls strands of thread across guitar strings, resulting in a shimmering trill effect.
His brother, drummer Andrew, spent time on a vibraphone, occasionally pounded on a corroded air compressor and later came forward with what the band affectionately calls a “manjo”—a four-stringed stepchild that was fashioned out of roof-tile and a wooden serving bowl.
Andres Vial switched between bass and a pump organ bought on eBay from someone who’d been using it as furniture.
From this melange of instruments and home goods, the Barr Brothers create lush, imaginative soundscapes that flirt with dissonance while keeping Americana tradition close at hand.
Inspired by the adventurous tonal experiments of jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, frontman Brad delivered assaultive delta blues with “Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying” alongside the gentle “Ooh, Belle.”
The band was methodical, as if each tune was its own several-course meal. “Beggar in the Morning” kicked off with a swirling raga-like wall of sound before giving way to simple acoustic chords and a tender melody. “Deacon’s Son” saw Brad channel his inner-Frisell with a superb, intricately-phrased guitar solo; he punctuated “Kisses from Chelsea” with the three-chord crunch of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.”
His call-and-response interaction with harpist Page on “Sarah Through the Wall” served as a sort of instrumental autobiography of how it all began for this thrillingly unusual band.