Over a career that spans three decades, Brad Barr has cultivated a uniquely visceral, bravely intimate approach to the guitar. If you’re already a fan of the Montreal-based Barr Brothers or the legendary improv-rock trio The Slip, then you already know – it’s futile to try categorizing his experimental nature.
By the time you’ve decided, the Providence-born guitarist, composer, and singer-songwriter will be on to something new. His approach to the blues might twang like Mississippi Fred McDowell one moment, then it’s slender and rolling, Fahey-style, before picking up a North African strain of the blues, a la Mahmoud Guinea or Ali Farka Toure. Inspirations range from mainstream rock to jazz greats, from the Smithsonian Folkways to Montreal institutions like Colin Stetson and Lhasa de Sela.
His musical journeys, almost always in lockstep with sibling drummer Andrew Barr, have taken them on chimerical paths: from all-night sets at jam festivals to the main stages of Newport Folk and Montreal Jazz; from tightly focused avant-rock collaborations to atmospheric reverb-laced folk ballads. Starting in the mid-90s, their trio The Slip built a global cult following for their wide-ranging compositions and deeply improvisational sets. When the two brothers moved to Montreal in 2005, they began a new chapter with experimental harpist Sarah Pagé and formed the Barr Brothers. The ensuing three albums have each been nominated for a Juno award, and they have shared the bill with such artists as My Morning Jacket, Calexico, Bela Fleck, The War on Drugs, Tinariwen, Built to Spill, The Prodigy, Emmylou Harris, and others.
Amidst the pandemic, Brad released his second instrumental recording, called THE WINTER MISSION (Secret City Records), with a simple rule: just the guitar. Its raw, unsettling intimacy is described as “an album of riches that needs to be given plenty of listens and plenty of time. It will certainly reward you.”
At the heart is a guitarist who is constantly reinventing himself – whether in the studio or in front of audiences, in vivo – because that is simply who he is. The happy mystery of what happens next is always there, elusive until the moment arrives; which is why you have to see Brad Barr perform live. There is an accumulated treasure trove of songs, both lyric and instrumental, from his thirty-plus years of constant exploration; and there is Brad himself, already leaning into the next turn, trying mostly to surprise himself… and the audience is along for the ride.