Established in 2012, The Barrel Boys are a 5-piece string band based in Toronto, Ontario. The band’s sound is built around rich vocal harmonies and virtuosic instrumentals, and their repertoire finely balances standard tunes with their own original writing. Their instrumentation lends itself to classic bluegrass, but they are also fluent in old time, classic country, and Americana, and their original material is informed by all of these styles. Each of the 5 members writes and sings their own tunes, making for a wide stylistic range within the band’s sound.In addition to being great songwriters, The Barrel Boys are also incredible performers. All 5 members crowd around a single vocal mic, making for a beautiful vocal blend, as well as an energetic and engaging experience. The group first honed its craft through a 2-year-long weekly residency at Toronto’s Cloak and Dagger Pub, where they performed 3-hr sets every Tuesday night. Since then, they have been featured on stages of all sizes across Ontario, Quebec, and the Canadian East Coast. Notable performances include the Mariposa Folk Festival, Montreal Folk Festival sur le Canal, Windsong Folk Festival, and Shelburne Heritage Music Fest.In June 2017, The Barrel Boys released Cold Spring, their second full-length album of original content. The album showcases The band’s five unique lead singers and songwriters and their trademark three, four, and five-part harmonies. The songs reflect their love and longing for the Canadian wilderness mixed with a tongue-in-cheek self-awareness of life in the big city. Since its release, The album has received outstanding reviews from Exclaim! and Disarm Magazine, and broke the top 10 on The Roots Music Report’s Top Canadian Album Chart. According to producer and IBMA Award winner Ivan Rosenberg:
“These days, it’s rare to hear an acoustic band with such a distinctive sound as The Barrel Boys: sincere and thoughtful songwriting in the Canadian folk tradition, modern instrumental arrangements that you might expect from a Colorado string band, and echoes of classic bluegrass entertainers such as John Hartford, The Country Gentlemen, and The Dillards. The unique voices and warm personalities of all the band members shine through in this superb and uplifting collection of music, and I think Cold Spring will be an album acoustic music lovers come back to year after year.”
In December of 2015, the Barrel Boys released Gospel Hour, a7-track EP of traditional gospel tunes. Recorded live off the floor at McGill University’s MMR studio, the album showcases the band’s instrumental chops, arranging abilities, and above all, vocal prowess. The record is bookended by two stunning group vocal numbers: Jordan and Heavenly Sunlight. Both tunes are old hymns performed in full harmony throughout. The arrangement for Jordan takes its inspiration from a classic Stanley Brothers recording, featuring just four voices and a steel-string guitar. Meanwhile, Heavenly Sunlight is sung in 5 parts, and is performed entirely around a single condenser microphone. The other 5 tracks on the album each feature a different lead vocalist, and cover a wide range of styles within the bluegrass and old-time gospel traditions. As Kristin Cavoukian of Exclaim magazine says:
“With tight harmonies, and clear, earnest singing, the Barrel Boys do these bluegrass gospel classics justice, and then some. Gospel Hour may only have 20 minutes of music on it, but it’s enough to make you a believer.”
The Barrel Boys released their debut full-length album Early On in the fall of 2014. The album features 13 tracks of original music, with tunes written by each of the 5 band members. This diversity of authorship, along with their sharing of the lead from song to song, gives the album an incredible stylistic breadth, with each author channeling their own influences into their writing. One can’t help but hear echoes of Hank Williams and George Jones in Kirkpatrick’s “I Can’t Lie to You,” while McLaren’s “Leave Me Guessin,” has a playfulness and bounce to it that brings to mind the great John Hartford. There is also a wide stylistic range on the few instrumental tracks on the album, from the contemporary sound of Smith’s “The Great Unknown,” to the soothing old-time sound of Wright’s clawhammer banjo tune “Hurricane Sandy.” Early On thus achieves a wide range of sounds and feels, while at once unified by the group’s collective sound. Informed by tradition, yet pushing the boundaries of their genre, this breakout album is laden with promise for things to come.
The Barrel Boys are: Nathan Smith (Fiddle); Rob McLaren (Banjo); Ben Wright (Guitar); Kyle Kirkpatrick (Dobro); and Tim O’Reilly (Bass)