Album Review: The Barr Brothers – Sleeping Operator

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The Barr Brothers is a Canadian quartet consisting of Andrew and Brad Barr, Andres Vial and Sarah Page. Sleeping Operator is their second album and is released on Secret City Records. Their self-titled debut was released back in 2011.

The album opens in true Celtic style with the plucking of a harp. Static Orphans builds slowly as guitar and strings are added to the melodic picking pattern on the harp. The song blends perfectly into the next track Love Ain’t Enough, an ideal concert opener. This well-produced song is driven by optimism which contradicts its title and is one of the strongest songs on the album. Lush production complements the rather simple but effective arrangement.

Not all tracks are as interesting as this one. Wolves is a rather plodding song with the harp injecting some brightness into it. It is restrained vocally and is not the only song to lack a bit of life. England is another such song that tries but just does not add much to the album. Even The Darkness explores the struggle with doubts while having someone to care for. ‘Even the darkness has arms but it ain’t got you / baby I have it and I have you too’ is a clever chorus line that resonates strongly.

There are many changes of style and Come In The Water is one such example. It doesn’t sound like it was produced anytime this century. This is not a bad thing at all and shows the diversity that the band has. It has a very biblical feel to it with Brad Barr’s voice cracking in the chorus as he sings about a spiritual struggle between right and wrong, peace and children asleep ‘with their heads on the butt of a gun’. Half Crazy is a sound that seems to suit the band more and gives the album a lift that it needs at times.

Again there is a change of sound as the band performs the blues with a slightly modern twist. Little Lover is similarly blues and roots sounding. The penultimate song, The Bear At The Window, is up there with Love Ain’t Enough as one of the top songs on the album. This wonderful acoustic picking and intricate melody builds up slowly until the grand finale when pounding drums enter combining with piano, guitar and a brass section to round off a fine song. The album ends with rather Celtic ambience as Brad Barr sings Please Let Me Let It Go, a pleading to be free from troubles. It’s a rather tame ending to what was such a strong and promising beginning to the album.

Sleeping Operator is an interesting mix of styles and can be commended for this reason, but more energy and rawness in the vein of the blues songs on the record would be more welcome next time.

Phil Soanes