Brothers from another mother

Local singer-songwriters join forces

Order in the courtyard: Singer-songwriters Chris Neufeld (left) and Donovan Giesbrecht (right) are The Other Brothers. Mark Reimer

Forget about The Jonas Brothers’ July appearance at the MTS Centre, there’s only one set of musical siblings Winnipeggers should care about – The Other Brothers.

But unlike Kevin, Joe and Nick, Chris Neufeld and Donovan Giesbrecht aren’t blood-related – they’re just friends.

The singer-songwriter duo is about to release its debut disc, Points of View. It’s the result of a partnership that almost seems like a no-brainer.

The two performed for years as solo artists. Neufeld, a teacher in Winnipeg, released his critically acclaimed solo debut, Colorado Low in 2005. Giesbrecht, a teacher who lives in Winkler with his wife and two children, contributed vocals to ex-Wailin’ Jenny Cara Luft’s 2007 CD The Light Fantastic.

When they met six years ago, Neufeld and Giesbrecht became fast friends. It wasn’t long before they were performing in each other’s songs in concert.

“It came pretty naturally,” Neufeld said on a Sunday afternoon in his Osborne Village apartment, shortly after a rehearsal with Giesbrecht. “The voices blended without any effort, it seemed, so then we finally just decided to record something and make it a little bit more formal. It came straight from an enjoyment of each other’s company and each other’s songs.”

Neufeld, 32, and Giesbrecht, 31, each brought five songs to the studio when they recorded with producer/engineer Mike Petkau last summer. Each is quick to praise the other’s work.

“Don’s guitar playing is really fluid and his lyrics are always thoughtful and clever,” Neufeld said. “I’m always envious of the lyrics, because that’s what I feel most vulnerable about when I write songs. His seem to come out effortless. I know they’re not effortless, but they all seem so natural.”

“Chris always has the perfect melodies, and they’re catchy, but not in a cheesy verse-chorus way,” Giesbrecht said in return. “And I think his lyrics are great, because they’re subtle. I have to be careful because I tend to get preachy. Chris doesn’t do that.”

The duo’s vocal harmonies and guitars take centre stage on the 39-minute disc. Other than the pedal steel playing of Bill Western and the occasional banjo part or guest vocal, the duo wanted to let their simple folk songs stand on their own.

The result is a breathtaking collection of music that alternates between upbeat barnburners and introspective ballads. Standout tracks include Second Wind, a song about salvation that avoids easy answers and sentimentality, and Okay, a heart-wrenching ballad that is the definition of poignant.

In short, what you’re hearing when you listen to Points of View is the sound of two gifted craftsmen at the top of their game.

And even though the CD isn’t out yet, the duo is already writing new material. Both agree that when one writes a song, it motivates the other to write one as well.

“There are often good chances to play music with other people, but you don’t always find people where you just love everything they do,” Giesbrecht said.

Neufeld agrees.

“It’s like being in a songwriter’s club, but kind of an exclusive songwriter’s club where you know you appreciate and relate with the other in the group.”

Published in Volume 63, Number 26 of The Uniter (April 2, 2009)

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