At this year’s Double Decker Arts Festival, The Sensational Barnes Brothers are set to ignite the North Lamar stage on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Brothers Chris and Courtney Barnes comprise the duo. Their style channels the spirit of gospel and soul music, and a bright, modern edge keeps their classic sound fresh. Their vibrancy shines through on their debut album, “Nobody’s Fault But My Own.” Even though it was released in 2019, brothers Courtney and Chris Barnes are lifelong music makers.
The Memphis natives spoke to The Daily Mississippian about how family, place and community have shaped their lives and music.
“It all began with our parents,” Chris Barnes said.
Their mother was a Raelette – a backup singer of soul icon Ray Charles – and their father was a singer and songwriter.
“When we came along, (our parent’s artistry) didn’t die down. They always sang, and they were always involved in creative things,” Courtney Barnes said.
The brothers also cite the church as a major musical influence.
“Going to church and being a part of different choirs is really what got us playing and writing,” Courtney Barnes said.
Their faith plays heavily in their songwriting, too.
“We try not to box ourselves in as far as genre, but we’re very church-oriented, so that’s what comes out,” Chris Barnes said.
The brothers merge optimistic gospel sentiments with the feel of old-school soul on tracks like “I Won’t Have to Cry No More” and “Beautiful Mansion.”
However, the pair are dabbling in new genres on two upcoming projects.
“We’re currently trying to knock out two records,” Courtney Barnes said. “We want something that has more of a contemporary, modern feel.”
“We’re doing a bit of neo-soul, too,” Chris Barnes added. “We’re playing around with more urban sounds.”
They plan to release singles in 2023, followed by the full albums in 2024.
Both brothers are vocalists and multi-instrumentalists. In the context of The Sensational Barnes Brothers, though, Chris is the primary percussionist, and Courtney writes their melodies.
The brothers each share their love of music with their children.
“[Our kids] are very musical. They all sing,” Chris Barnes said.
In fact, Courtney said that his eldest son will be featured on one of the brothers’ forthcoming albums.
“Keep an ear out for my oldest son on the album,” Courtney Barnes shared. “He’s taking on one of the songs. He’s very talented.”
This is not the first time the brothers have collaborated with their family members. Before they became The Sensational Barnes Brothers, the brothers recorded an album, “Family Tree,” with the other Barneses in 2015.
Throughout their career, they have also collaborated with several Grammy-nominated musicians, including fellow Memphian Don Bryant and rock band Making Movies. Although, their favorite collaboration was with Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.
“Working with Dan was pretty awesome,” Chris Barnes said. “We did background vocals on an entire album of his at a Nashville studio. It was one of the best collaboration experiences that we’ve had.”
As for performing, the brothers play most of their gigs in Memphis. However, their 2023 tour will take them across the United States. They are slated to play at Rocky Mountain Folk Festival in Lyons, Calif., and Sisters Folk Festival in Sisters, Ohio, among several other locations.
The brothers will kick off their festival circuit at Double Decker Arts Festival, and the performance will be their first in Oxford.
“(Double Decker) is gearing us up for a busy season of touring,” Courtney Barnes said. “After that, we’ll go home to Memphis to play the Beale Street Music Festival.”
Chris and Courtney reflected on their musical journey and are gracious for the positive results that have come their way.
“We’ve toured before, but it’s a blessing how heavy (our success) has come, and so quickly,” Courtney Barnes said. “It really is a blessing.”