Oh, Brothers

By Steven Libowitz   |   January 10, 2019
Adam and David Moss of The Brother Brothers play their first headlining show at SOhO on Friday, January 12 (photo by Erika Kapin)

“They are excellent, they sing really well,” David Crosby tweeted last October, hours after seeing The Brother Brothers open for I’m With Her at the Lobero Theatre. The folk-rock icon surely wasn’t the only music lover who was pleasantly surprised, as the sustained applause and cheers proved that many were basically blown away by the duo of Adam and David Moss, whose close, silky harmonies and folk-bluegrass songs recalled earlier duos like the Everly Brothers and Simon & Garfunkel, and more modern brethren in the Milk Carton Kids.

The Lobero show was the Santa Barbara debut from the Illinois-born twins who, more than a decade after college, finally formed their first band together just a couple of years ago. It came just before the release of Some People I Know, their first album together, a sonic sampler that proves The Brother Brothers are more than just a novelty sibling sensation.

The Moss men return to town for their first headlining gig, at SOhO, on Friday, January 12, where the 75-90 minute set should give them plenty of space to show more sides of their songwriting, instrumental prowess and, especially, the vaunted vocals to a crowd who now know who they are. Adam Moss talked about the band’s history, the album and more over the phone last week. 

Q. Considering how close and seemingly effortless you and David work together, why did it take so long to form a formal duo?

A. I imagine there’s a psychiatric term for why were didn’t form a band right away. Growing up, we were always identified as just the twins, so that when we finally left home for college it was a mission (for each of us) to establish our own identity. We stayed close, and involved in each other’s projects and always talked a lot, but we carried on different careers. Even when we lived in the same town a couple of times, we weren’t done being ourselves, being individuals. It was always the logical thing that we would play in a band together, but it took a lot of maturing for us to be ready to actually do it. 

What was the catalyst for finally coming together?

When we both ended up in New York City, the original plan was for him to continue being a solo singer-songwriter, with me accompanying him at times just like I was a sideman fiddler for other bands and singers. After one particularly difficult winter when I wasn’t making much money freelancing, I hit rock bottom and decided it was time to take charge of the gigs that I play. I called David and said, “OK, let’s’ do it,” and he was into it too.

Did it just flow right away as the Brother Brothers?

It did, basically, because we’d already been to the Kerrville Folk Festival and discovered songwriting as a craft and art. By the time we started the band, David had a long list of songs, and he’d actually won the new folk competition at Kerrville, and recorded his own album. The question was figuring out how to work together, how to play each other’s songs in ways that we both liked and were comfortable with. We had to iron all that out. But we used the Everly Brothers, and Simon & Garfunkel and bluegrass duos like the Louvre Brothers for a [template] how to make the music work. 

So you enjoy those frequent comparisons to other duos, including Milk Carton Kids?

It’s difficult to answer. Writers and fans go there quickly, and we’re certainly inspired by that music, but we want to create our own thing. It just so happens that our vocal boxes sound like Paul Simon, but I would hate for that to define us. On the other hand, how can I not pay homage to someone as great as him?

Well, your debut album is a bit of a departure of typical Americana in terms of its eclecticism, with dips into klezmer music and even yodeling.

I think that has a lot to do with just wanting to express ourselves at this moment. We were finding out who we were as much as anyone who listens to it. Our solo shows are very different from the band. The Brother Brothers is a good marriage of what we do, the combination of our scattered sensibilities.

The one thread beyond the vocal harmonies seems to be a penchant for taking on themes largely through well-defined characters. I’m thinking about “Banjo Song” and “Frankie” in particular. Are these true stories, autobiographical, observations, pure fiction, or some combination?

I think for both of us the songs are expressions of where he or I was at when they were written. They reflect the people we associate with, on one level or another, but also the environments where we live. None of them are about one specific person. But they remind us of a situation. “Banjo Song” came from an experience I had with a friend, and his essence kicked off the writing process. “Frankie” is about the results of gentrification that came in the aftermath of the clean up following Hurricane Sandy in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where David worked in a neighborhood bar for seven years.

Have you co-written any songs or have plans to collaborate in composition?

Not yet. It might happen down the road, but that’s where our emotions flare up. And we don’t like to fight. We haven’t had to do that yet, and it’s going well, so why pick fights with each other? Not that it would destroy us (a la Black Crowes or Oasis), and I have very little fear of that happening because we don’t disagreements come between us that way. But we don’t want to jinx ourselves, either. 

Career at the ‘Crossroads’: Bromberg Basking in his Bandmates

A number of years ago, David Bromberg wrote down a list of all the singers and musicians he’d performed or recorded with over the course of his half century-plus. The tally totaled up to more than six single-spaced pages, including such notables as Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia, country icon Willie Nelson, Joni Mitchell, former Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison, and Bob Dylan as well as Rev. Gary Davis, the acoustic blues legend who mentored Bromberg during his time at Columbia University in the 1960s. And all that despite the singer-songwriter-guitarist taking a 22-year hiatus from performing and recording in 1980 to pursue an interest in violin making.

No wonder one writer called Bromberg the “Forrest Gump of significant musical milestones.”

Now Bromberg, whose performances date back to Greenwich Village coffeehouses and backstage at the original Woodstock can add one more name to his roster: David Hidalgo, the masterful guitarist and visionary songwriter who is one of the co-leaders of Los Lobos, the well-respected Grammy-winning East L.A. band whose Chicano-flavored American roots-rock is one of the most unique in the arts. The pair are part of The American Crossroads Trio along with Larry Campbell, a fellow triple-threat who spent eight years as a part of Dylan’s “Never-Ending Tour” band before hooking up to collaborate with Bromberg on his recent projects. The band makes its West Coast debut at the Lobero on Tuesday, January 15.

“Actually I’ve known David since he contributed a song to Use Me,” Bromberg corrected over the phone the other day, referring to the album where he invited musical associates to write or choose and then produce one track each with him singing for the record. “I always admired his playing. He’s just brilliant. Turns out he’s a really nice, too.”

American Trio did some shows on the East Coast a couple of years ago, but this current tour is just five dates long, and Bromberg plans to make the most of the opportunity to connect, trusting the moment – and his partners – to make the shows memorable. There’s a list of songs they’ve exchanged and they’ve agreed to one rehearsal before launching the tour at the Lobero, but anything might happen.

“We just play what we feel, and it’s different every time,” he said. “That’s what makes it so much fun. We’ve got the rehearsal, but truly there’s no telling if we’ll perform any of those songs. We’re all great accompanist, we all can swing with whatever hits us.”

If it sounds like Bromberg – who scored hits with “Mr. Bojangles” and had a string of increasingly successful albums over a six-year span in the 1970s (David Bromberg, Demon in Disguise, Wanted Dead or Alive, Midnight on the Water, How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Til?, Reckless Abandon, and Bandit in a Bathing Suit) – is still making up for lost time 17 years after returning from his self-imposed musical exile, there’s some truth there.

“I stopped because I was working too much and I was just burned out,” he recalled. “But I was too stupid to realize that’s all it was. All I knew was that when I wasn’t on the road, which wasn’t often, I wasn’t practicing or writing or jamming – things a musician does. I’d seen guys on the circuit who’d drag themselves onto the stage and do a bitter imitation of what they used to love. I didn’t want to be that guy.”

Bromberg admits his audiences have been smaller since returning in 2002, but on the other hand he’s able to play halls and clubs that, he said, guys who had hits can’t sell. “I kind of wish I’d been playing all that time, but I never could have predicted that it would work out like this.”

This being the opportunity to have the kind of control over his gigs, recordings, hours, and especially collaborators that wasn’t there before. That would include working with Hidalgo and Campbell in The American Crossroads Trio. So while Bromberg admits to his favorites, exactly which songs show up on stage on any given night isn’t important, he said. “Any chance, anywhere I get to play with these two guys I will take,” Bromberg said, employing some of the trademark with that has characterized lots of his music over the years. “In the studio, on the road, with green eggs and ham, with a fox or some lox. I don’t care.” 

Classical Corner: CAMA’s Centennial Continues 

What better way to kickoff the 2019 segment of CAMA’s 100th anniversary celebration than with a superstar violinist who actually first performed for the organization more than half a century ago? Itzhak Perlman, the virtuoso and cultural icon whose numerous accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Kennedy Center Honor, the National Medal of Arts, and a Medal of Liberty (not to mention serving as co-chair of the CAMA Centennial Honorary Artist Council), first performed for CAMA as soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1967 at age 21. He’ll return for a sixth concert with a longtime collaborator, the acclaimed pianist Rohan De Silva, a Best Accompanist honoree at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, for a recital at the Granada on Tuesday, January 5.

Camerata Pacifica jumps right back into the swing of things in its remarkably ambitious two-year Beethoven project with a 10-artist strong concert, including both ensemble principals and guests, covering Mozart’s Quintet for Piano & Winds in E-flat Major, K. 452; Poulenc’s Sextet; and Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat Major, Op. 20. Show time is 7:30 pm on Friday, January 11, at Hahn Hall.

Santa Barbara Music Club launches into the New Year with program boasting piano and flute (Andrea and Neil Di Maggio) and violin and piano (Nicole McKenzie and Betty Oberacker) duos featuring works described as “elegant outliers” as the pieces don’t quite fit the mold in terms of historical setting, genre, style, and the like. The Di Maggios take on Albert Périlhou’s Ballade and Jake Heggie’s Soliloquy, while McKenzie and Oberacker offer Gabriel Fauré’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major, Op 13, with two works for solo piano, Franz Schubert’s Impromptu in F Minor (Op. 142/4) and Avner Dorman’s Sonata No. 3 Dance Suite, also on the program. Admission is free for the 3 pm Saturday, January 12, concert at First United Methodist Church. 

What Up, Docs?

Santa Barbara International Film Festival has always had a soft spot for documentary films, as well more than one category encompassing the non-fiction features and shorts in a huge swatch of subjects are on the slate every year. By the nature of its timing, SBIFF also enjoys a relationship with award season, particular the Oscars, what with all the attention on nominated actors, writers, directors, and others. But usually all of that takes place during the festival itself. 

This year, however, SBIFF is hosting a 2019 Oscars Spotlight that ends two weeks before the festival begins, at its newly renovated Riviera Theatre is screening all 15 of the documentary features that have been included on the so-called shortlist, from which the five nominees will emerge. Screenings began on January 4, but the generous schedule is such that every one of the features will have at least one screening between January 10-17. Plus, there are two festival-style Director Q&As on the slate, with RBG’s Betsy West and Julie Cohen after the 2:30 pm show on January 12, and Minding the Gap’sBing Liu at the same time on January 14. Full-spotlight passes ($75) and individual tickets ($10) are available at www.sbiff.org

Further Focus on Film 

Docs are also the order of the day at free film events elsewhere in town as The Carsey-Wolf Center’s Pollock Theatre at UCSB kicks off 2019 with a screening of Nadie at 7 pm Tuesday, January 15. The 2017 film tells the story of love and deception in the Cuban revolution as seen through the eyes of a man who was initially mesmerized by all its possibilities. Filmmaker Miguel Coyula – who created a pop culture collage, combining clips from old movies, photographs and imaginary conversations – joins actor/co-producer Lynn Cruz for a post-screening Q&A.

Journalist and part-time Montecito resident Ivor Davis, who as a correspondent for London’s Daily Express covered the Beatles’ first American tour from start to finish, delves back into his experiences with the Fab Four following a screening of the band’s first film, 1964’s A Hard Day’s Night, at 7 pm Thursday, January 17, as part of Pollock’s new Beatles Revolutions series.

Meanwhile, UCSB’s Arts & Lectures previews the January 27 Granada performance by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo with a screening of Rebels On Pointe, which chronicles the history of the popular all-male drag ballet company founded on the heels of New York’s Stonewall riots more than 40 years ago. The cinéma vérité doc screens at 7:30 pm Wednesday, January 16, at Campbell Hall.

Talk it Out: Animal Instincts

Whether camping with wolves in Vancouver, pursuing peregrine falcons in London, or tracking leopards in the streets of Mumbai, the award-winning 25-year-old British photographer/filmmaker Bertie Gregory embodies his passionate advocacy of the natural world via capturing the essence of peaceful coexistence with the animals with both respect and humor. The host of National Geographic’s Wild Life with Bertie Gregory – who has been named Youth Outdoor Photographer of the Year, a National Geographic Young Explorer, and the Scientific Exploration Society’s Zenith Explorer of the Year – will share both his footage and stories in the National Geographic Live multimedia presentation A Wild Life at 3 pm Sunday, January 13, at UCSB Campbell Hall.

Cusk on the Cusp

Rachel Cusk, who critics have credited with virtually redrawing the boundaries of fiction with her “Outline Trilogy” via the creation of a new kind of sentence, a belief that character no longer exists, and her distinctive depiction of the dealings between men and women, is the next guest in Parallel Stories, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s periodic literary and performing arts lecture series that generally pairs art and artists with award-winning authors and performers. Lauded for the precision of her prose and the quality of her insight, the brilliant but controversial Cusk, who via her opaque but perceptive narrator challenges the assumptions we make about art, motherhood, marriage, and loyalty, will be interviewed by Andrew Winer, a friend and fellow writer who is chair of Creative Writing at UC Riverside, at 2:30 pm on Sunday, January 13.


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