With a shared lifetime of studying and making music together, Montreal-based brothers Brad and Andrew Barr seem to approach their craft with an almost academic zeal.
The duo are intrigued as much by traditional American folk styles as they are the music of West Africa, with the welcome result being a debut record equally indebted to the blues of the Delta and the desert, played on instruments both familiar and unorthodox, and bound by a common appreciation.
Rounded out by the contributions of classical harp virtuoso Sarah Page and multi-instrumentalist Andres Vial, the eponymous album is one of the more interesting releases of the year.
amNewYork spoke with Brad Barr.
You've played together since you were kids. Were you raised in a musical household? It wasn't musical as far as our parents were concerned, although they did help us facilitate and nurture our curiosities. It was our outlet as kids. It was also a way of keeping the peace between us. As two young brothers, we did tend to fight and scuffle and get on each other's nerves, but when we had instruments in our hands, it was usually pretty peaceful.
Even with so much experience behind you, does this record feel like a beginning? I wouldn't say it feels like a beginning, but it does feel like a new chance to bring a more involved version of what we love to a new audience. We didn't really set out to be a band that was going to tour, make a record and get popular. It was really just for our own enjoyment, in our studio with our friends, making new songs come to life. The whole thing was a testament to letting go of a lot of ideas of what it means to be in a band, because we'd done that for so many years. With this one, we were relaxed about everything.
There's a remarkable range of references in your writing, from West African styles to traditional American folk and blues. Where does that come from? The longer I do this, the more the boundaries between styles really start to disappear. The deeper you probe into the sources of what we call folk, or blues, or country, or jazz, or rock, you start to go back and see the source of a lot of this stuff. Whether it's the Delta blues, or West Africa, or Ireland - even classical music.
If you go: The Barr Brothers are at Joe's Pub tomorrow at 9:30 p.m., 425 Lafayette St., 212-539-8778, $12.
The band is at Union Pool on Thursday at 9 p.m., 484 Union Ave., Williamsburg, 718-609-0484, $12.