The Brothers Reed: Looking Back at the Last Five Years
When I first heard about the Brothers Reed, I remember seeing them everywhere. They booked gigs at every winery, bar, and club, seeming to be tireless. Their website (thebrothersreed.com) tells people that they do almost 300 shows per year, which is more than impressive. That hustle has made quite a name for them in this region, and their musical talents deserve the recognition. Sure, 2020 has slowed everyone down, but The Brothers Reed have stayed busy, doing projects and even continuing to play live. They hosted a “Pre-Thanksgiving Live Streaming event and their latest stint of shows was earlier this month at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville. (They seem to finally be taking a break now for the Holidays however).
One of their chosen projects this year was doing some cover song dedications for folks over live streaming, so that well-wishers could pay their sentiments to loved ones when it was difficult to be there in-person. The dedications I saw online include Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” with keyboard that sounds like an organ at times, a somewhat rare instrument for a Brothers Reed song. They also do a beautiful cover of Eric Church’s “Like Jesus Does” for a couple, and this song sounds like it was written with The Brothers Reed in mind as it fits their performance style like a glove.
When perusing their latest studio album, 2019’s Caught in a Dream, I’m a little shocked at how introspective, deep, existential, and very sad it is. (A couple of the tracks had me tearing up at the end – “Family” and “This Ain’t Goodbye”). I had always thought that The Brothers were a barnstormin’, upbeat, somewhat straightforward folk bluegrass band that you enjoy on a patio somewhere with your friends while drinking beer. Now that I’m delving into whole bodies of work by them, I’m realizing that they’re so much more than that. Caught could be considered a quasi-concept album, with its theme of grappling with grief, loss, and being left to struggle with the aftermath and survive because…well because you’re still alive. Every track has at least a slightly sorrowful tone to it with the exception of the one somewhere in the middle of the album, “Fishy”, which although the music itself gives the listener the fast paced bluegrass fiddle and guitar that a casual fan might expect from this band, the lyrics continue the album’s mood by being about trying to hold out and wait for a brighter day. And to think that this album was released before the pandemic hit our country!
By contrast the proceeding year’s Three has a more even mix of upbeat and melancholy, with peppy tracks like “Hoedown in Heaven” and “Arms of the World” intermingled with ballads such as “Cameron” and “Messed Up World,” in which the lyrics are part prayer to God, The Brothers apologizing for worrying Him back when they were “young, dumb, high, and wired.”
2016’s Monster in My Head was heavy on soulful, heartfelt ballads, and it also featured two tracks with a reggae vibe to them – “Mary Mary” and “I’ll Be Singing” which set this album apart from the band’s other work.
It all started with 2015’s Sick As Folk, which boasts some of their fans’ picks for the top tracks by the band, like “Hellfire Lake,” with its complex and rapid guitar picking, and “Crazy Hippie,” which in my opinion has one of their most infectious choruses that I could see being part of a crowd sing-along at their shows.
There’s a woven-in theme of talking to God in much of their work, but some of it gives me the impression that The Brothers are frustrated with or wrestling God in a way, whether it’s telling Him “You’ll sit in the front row while I make You listen to my pain” (“Brighter Side of Things”) or challenging Him to spend a day in their shoes (“Irish Hymn”). There are beautiful moments in several songs when The Brothers plead with the Lord for direction, or sometimes just relief from their sorrow, which really reminds one of the profound meaning for the term “soul searching.”
The Brothers Reed’s music is available on all major online streaming platforms.