Saturday, December 23, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1700: The Brother Brothers

What’s this? A second review in as many days? Easily done when I have some time away from work, my friends. I was also aided by both albums having only six songs, and being stuck in downtown Victoria traffic.

Disc 1700 is…Tugboats E.P.

Artist: The Brother Brothers

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? In a decision surprising no one, the cover of an album called tugboats features a tugboat. I suspect this particular tugboat is not registered as “Tugboats E.P.” and this is a digital addition. At least I hope that is the case, because if that were this tugboat’s name it would endure a lot of teasing from the other boats.

How I Came To Know It: I discovered the Brother Brothers through their 2018 album, “Some People I Know” (reviewed back at Disc1376). That cover also features a ship.

Anyway, I found the Tugboats E.P. on Bandcamp while I was digging through the band’s back catalogue.

How It Stacks Up: I now have four Brother Brothers albums. Of those four, “Tugboats” does very well, landing in second, just behind “Some People I Know” which now ‘stacks up’ due to more records coming into the collection.

Rating: 4 stars

You will not find a better example of two-part harmonies than identical twins David and Adam Moss (aka the Brother Brothers) and yes, I am including Simon and Garfunkel in that statement. I’m not saying the Brother Brothers are better than Simon and Garfunkel (they are not), I’m saying their two-part harmonies are better.

This singular talent is deployed front and centre on understated folk records heavily inspired by folk duos that came before, including the Everly Brothers and the aforementioned S&G.

The record’s title track is the best tune, a weary and sad reflection on life’s many burdens. It is a beautiful exploration of the desire to sit down and curb and give up, and yet not do so. The tugboat aspect comes late, providing a metaphorical resoluteness to push on. Or as the Brothers observe:

“Tugboats don’t get tired, they just have to go slow
But ain’t that the way you pull a heavy load?”

Like many a great folk record, “Tugboats” features a cover and here the boys go with “Columbus Stockade Blues”. I’ve heard this song as a blues tune and as bluegrass but here the Brothers give it a whole new treatment. Aided by a haunting violin reminiscent of early Leonard Cohen, this version sounds like ghosts whispering their secrets from the grave. “Columbus Stockade Blues” is always vaguely creepy, but the Brother Brothers take that to an otherworldly level. I’m not saying it is better than Doc Watson, but it holds its own.

The album packs a lot of emotional range into a short 18 minutes. “Notary Public” is a whimsical and catchy tune where the narrator opines that he needs a notary public because he thinks he’s “signed away my heart again.” It is a bit kitschy but a good palate cleanser to the many slow and sad numbers.

We wrap up the record with “Cairo, IL” another tune with some sweet and mournful violin. This tune showcases a mix of solo vocals (not sure if it is David or Adam) and those sublime harmonies, as the brothers walk in and out of the two deliveries with easy grace.

“Easy grace” summarizes the experience of the record as a whole as well. Listening to the Brother Brothers is like a relaxing massage for your mind. They created a calm bubble around me for a day spent in Christmas traffic – no easy feat.

Best tracks: Tugboats, Columbus Stockade Blues, Cairo IL

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