Levon Helm Studios presents The Barr Brothers
To begin their third album, The Barr Brothers weren't writing any songs. For the first time, the Montreal outfit's three members - namesake siblings Brad and Andrew Barr, harpist Sarah Pagé - went empty-handed into the studio. No plans or preconceptions, no books of lyrics or sheets of chords - they went down miles of snowy road to a cabin on a frozen lake, a place full of windows and microphones and starlight and sunshine, with amplifiers in the bedrooms, their volumes turned up loud. On the fringes of Saint Zenon, Québec (pop. 1,1150), a 30-minute snowmobile ride to the nearest grocery store, the band spent seven days making things up. Improvisations that lasted hours at a time - noons and midnights, dusks and dawns, with grooves inspired by India, West Africa and 808s; by Brad's scorching electric guitar; and by Pagé's new inventions, hacks to turn her harp into a versatile, sub-bass-booming noisemaker.
Queens of the Breakers was born at that cabin in the country. Then the band took that racket and distilled it into songs: 11 tracks of blazing courage and failing resolve; suffused with groove, melody and the Barr Brothers' wide-open sense of the blues. At times the sound's all twinkling, the score for a lost John Hughes film; at other times it's whetted, searching, like the stuff of Lhasa de Sela or Led Zeppelin's III. These are tales of teenagers prowling through Rhode Island mansions (the title track), coming to Montreal and falling in love ("Song That I Heard"), tattered patriotism and clenching fists ("Kompromat", "Ready for War"). There's also "Defibrillation", a mournful letter from a father to his son, inspired by the broken rhythm of a pair of hospital heart monitors - and a drumbeat based on that dither.
It's this tension, this dither, that lives at the centre of Queens of the Breakers. Three players - friends, comrades, music-makers, all of them trying to play in sync. Three bandmates - each of them fumbling, remembering, trying to invent something together. A band still playing, even occasionally reimagining, their rock'n'roll.