Soulful Folks: The Brother Brothers
The Brother Brothers are Adam and David Moss, identical twins carrying on the folk tradition for a new generation. Using minimal instrumentation, heartfelt lyricism, and harmonies so natural they seem to blend into one beautiful voice, the siblings draw on the energy and creativity of Brooklyn, New York for their full-length debut album, Some People I Know.
The Brother Brothers’ acoustic project emerges from several years spent traveling the country, both separately and together, playing in varying ensembles and sometimes settling in separate cities. Though each writes his fair share of the discography independently, the brothers’ palpable fraternal bond produces a togetherness in these songs that few bands can offer.
The title, Some People I Know, refers to the resonating personal nature of these songs. As David explains, “I think every song on the album is about a person or a character, and in a way, is a reflection of ourselves.” Track after track, this sentiment rings true; “Mary Anne” is an encouraging ode to a friend with depression. “Banjo Song” conveys a conversation with someone who gives up playing an instrument after a hurtful breakup. “The Gambler” honors an old man who makes his living at Atlantic City casinos.
The duo masterfully captures familiarity in human experiences, their nomadic background making that no surprise. “Adam and I are definitely the kind of people that have trouble staying in,” says David. “We love surrounding ourselves with people that make us feel good, and grow. That's part of the beauty of living in New York and living in Austin and Boston and traveling the country – wherever you go, you've got friends and people that really shine and help you shine a little brighter.”
David has bartended in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn for six years, seeing firsthand his regular customers and friends being priced out of the area. The disheartening change inspired “Frankie,” a song in which a close-knit community slowly shrinks, as a result of growing greed outside its control. The song’s powerful chorus makes a memorable statement true to folk tradition.
Although young men, The Brother Brothers have boasted this sterling folk sound for decades. Growing up in Peoria, Illinois, they sang along as children to their father’s record collection of the Kingston Trio, the Everly Brothers, the Beatles, and the Beach Boys. “That's where we learned to sing harmony and then one thing leads to another,” says Adam. “All of a sudden we could harmonize to anything we wanted to. It was a very natural progression.”
After earning music degrees at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, the brothers set off on separate musical journeys. Adam traded in the viola for a fiddle and joined Green Mountain Grass, Austin’s premier gonzograss band. David spent a short stint in Chicago, then moved to Austin and formed a progressive folk group called The Blue Hit.
Once in Austin, David discovered the music of Texas songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Blaze Foley and began writing songs shortly thereafter. In 2011, he entered (and won) the Newfolk songwriting competition at Kerrville Folk Festival. “Going to the folk festival each year has been a constant source of new friends and some of the purest inspiration we’ve ever known,” says Adam, who went on to talk about the value of artists as friends and the creative influence they can have on you.
From Austin, Adam moved to Boston, where he busked in the subway in order to hone his talent as a fiddler. After a couple of years, the twins reunited in Brooklyn, where The Brother Brothers project was finally born. Before long, they accepted invitations to open tours with Sarah Jarosz and Lake Street Dive. They released an independent EP, Tugboats, in 2017, followed by a national tour with I’m With Her in 2018.
Speaking about their live shows, Adam says, “I feel like there's definitely like a living room vibe. Most of our experience before we were performing as a duo was, you know, sitting around song circles with friends, playing and creating a very homey, small-room environment.”
That sense of familiarity has served the siblings well on Some People I Know. After going on tour with Anaïs Mitchell’s stage production of Hadestown, David wrote “Colorado” to pay homage to friendships made on the road, brief as they may have been. Adam wrote the lively fiddle tune “In the Nighttime” in order to attract passersby in the Boston subway. By using a different microphone set-up, the track stands out on Some People I Know – and not just because of the yodeling.
As the record returns to a gentle pace, “Red and Gold” harkens back to Simon & Garfunkel, while “Ocean’s Daughter” (written with Rosie Tucker) meshes the duo’s sound with klezmer music. The portrayal of a doomed relationship in Peter Rowan’s “Paper Bride” is perhaps the album’s most cinematic moment. Quietly closing the album, Buck Meek’s “Sam Bridges” is a beautifully told tale of the vagabond, and “Goodbye Old Silver,” is poetic gratitude paid to seasons’ change.
The Brother Brothers recorded Some People I Know at Mark Ettinger’s Lethe Lounge in New York City with producer Robin Macmillan and engineer Jefferson Hamer. While the songs capably capture a modern snapshot of their surroundings, the album itself retains a timeless feel – something the brothers intentionally accomplished.
“I just want people to listen to it once and want to listen to it again,” David says of the album. “And every time they listen to it, I want them to find something new and in some way relate it to themselves. Whether they're listening to it today or in 40 years, I hope it will make them feel just the same.”