Brad Barr is the lead singer and songwriter of The Barr Brothers, a folk-Americana band that’s been around for over a decade. He has spent decades developing his instinctive approach to the guitar, first with The Slip and then across three records with The Barr Brothers.
`The Winter Mission` is his latest solo instrumental release and the follow-up to his first instrumental guitar album and solo debut, `The Fall Apartment` which was released in 2008.
Brad Barr has been counting the number 216
for over two decades. It’s a mysterious number that seems to show up everywhere and is sewn into the fabric of his new album. He was inspired by artists like Caetano Veloso, Mississippi Fred McDowell, D’Gary and John Frusciante, Barr set out to make music that was naked and unprocessed, but also occasionally loud and alive with a sense of wakeful intimacy. The number 216 was a constant theme. The guitarist first encountered the so-called “magic square” during a teenage acid trip; in the years since then it’s become a talisman, one of the few areas where Barr feels mystical, sensing a genuine order in the universe. These songs pay tribute to that order, from 216’s lofty mathematical and astrological properties to its function as an area-code (for Cleveland).
The album opens with`3, 4, 5…..6` an intricately played number where chords are plucked on an acoustic guitar that rolls along
quite melodically and mesmerisingly. I found `Your Dad’s Awake` a tad more challenging as it kind of stutters to get off the ground initially. It gains a bit of a foothold just before the midpoint and has a delicate intonation where you feel or have that anticipation that something is about to happen before the track fades out.
`The Color Of Nine` is brief sortie and initially I thought it was the intro to Led Zeppelin`s `Stairway to Heaven` but it became quite almost baroque. In `Ancient Calendars` we have a track that I read was improvised and amplified on a 12-string acoustic guitar with no overdubs. A track that was overwhelmingly beguiling and captivating.
`Cleveland, OH` to me had a more bluesy vibe and was enchantingly hypnotic. At times you could hear the guitar frets as fingers moved across them. While listening to `Baseball` I
was initially reminded of Ry Cooder`s work on Paris, Texas. That was before it became a curved ball of sorts and developed a more belligerent approach. I`m clueless as to guitars but this had that slide or resonating guitar sound that would encourage me to try and learn to play this instrument.
I read somewhere that there are 216 stitches on a baseball, which echoes back to the album theme. `Two Hundred And Sixteen` for some reason felt quite spiritual at times as it evolved but maybe I was trying to read something into it. It`s another piece that has that feeling of trepidation but without fulfilment. A track that will hold your attention for its duration. We have birdsong and traffic noise in the background of `Magic Square`. I heard that a magic square in a musical composition is a powerful, orbiting dynamo of musical images, glowing with numen and lumen which goes someway to summing up
`Autonomie` seems to be the French word for Autonomy which is defined as independence in one’s thoughts or actions, in other words freedom. The work itself is a gentle melodically strummed Spanish guitar or similar, quite dreamy. I googled `Untouchable Number` and it revealed that an untouchable number is a positive integer that cannot be expressed as the sum of all the proper divisors of any positive integer, which really didn`t help me. It`s a pretty fast paced and quite complexly played presentation that is repetitively rhythmic and becomes very entrancing almost spellbinding.
`Safe` is quite illusionary heading towards surreal with guitar chord riffs that are almost terse in the opening section and a little abrasive midway before becoming more rounded and tender towards the end, an
engaging listen. The album closes with `Prayer Beads` which may well have some religious significance. A tranquil and unassuming piece that may have been inspired by something sacred or sacrosanct.
`Winter Mission` was a release that almost blindsided me as I was expecting something similar to the intense indie folk texture of Brad`s group The Barr Brothers. This album is not an easy listen at times but it has it`s really rewarding moments and that`s all you can ask. I was reminded of `Skeleton at the Feast` by former Captain Beefheart member Gary Lucas.
This is an engrossing listen with shades of light and dark and it`ll reward you if you allow it the time and immense yourself in it.