Brother Sun conquers folk-radio charts

Brother Sun is, from left, Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks and Pat Wictor.
Brother Sun is, from left, Greg Greenway, Joe Jencks and Pat Wictor. Photo provided

Musicians Pat Wictor, Greg Greenway and Joe Jencks already made names for themselves as singer-songwriters. As the trio Brother Sun, they fused folk, Americana, blues, pop, jazz, rock and a cappella singing, to bring music and a message that has earned the respect and appeal of fans of both contemporary and traditional music.

“Brother Sun comes together through our vocal harmonies, which lets us blend all our musical vocabularies into new and interesting mixtures,” Wictor said. “We might be one of the only bands in the world with slide guitar and bouzouki, for example, and they blend together seamlessly.”

Wictor said he considers himself a walking advertisement for music education. He was born in Venezuela but moved around a lot growing up.

“In a small school I attended, they made all the eight-graders learn to play the guitar, and I was hooked,” he said.

Through bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Wictor discovered blues and his interests grew from there.

“My older brother truly brought music into our house, and I sang with him,” Greenway said, citing Richie Havens, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Peter Gabriel, Billy Taylor, Chick Corea and Randy Newman as influences.

Jencks is the youngest in a large musical family and said music has been a part of his life since he could walk.

“I grew up singing with my sisters and brothers, which made vocal harmony the foundation of my life,” Jencks said. “I studied voice and piano and did a lot of musical theater as well.

When it came to naming the trio, the three men sought a name that captured the essence of their music but something that had reference points in the natural world, history, luminosity, masculinity, and spirituality.

“I ran (Brother Sun) past the guys, and they agreed that it fit,” Jencks said. “It captures something of who we are as musicians in consort with each other creatively and artistically. Greg said once so eloquently — ‘The music of Brother Sun is not resident within any one of us, but rather it exists in the space between us.’ I liked that idea. The name captures that for us.”

For the group’s second album, “Some Part of the Truth,” the musicians knew they wanted it to be more produced than their first. The biggest decision the band made was to work with Grammy Award-winning producer Ben Wisch (Steve Winwood, Willy Porter, Kathy Mattea).

“Ben brought in some incredible musicians, most notably Zev Katz, on stand-up bass, electric bass and fretless,” Greenway said. “In the end, Zev was the biggest difference musically between the two CDs — that and Ben’s incredible mixing.”

The response to the record has been tremendous. “Some Part of the Truth” debuted at No. 1 on the North American folk music chart; the single “Lady of the Harbor” was the most-played song on folk radio in 2013.Eight songs from the album have made the top 100. The accolades have made “Some Part of the Truth” the No. 1 CD on the folk DJ list for 2013.

Having played in the area before, Brother Sun has seen how passionate and knowledgeable the acoustic music audiences are in central Pennsylvania

“The (Center for Well-Being) is a beautiful, resonant space; the room is perfect for singing and brings out the power in our voices,” Wictor said. “Acoustic Brew has built a great core audience supporting the concert series.

For Wictor, making music is something that he feels he simply has to do.

“It’s a privilege and a dream fulfilled to do it for a living, and a special thing to collaborate with such great musicians and human beings as Joe and Greg,” he said. “I’m confident that if we keep growing, stretching and making great music together, people will enjoy what we do.”

“The most wonderful part of this is that the second people hear the blend of our voices, they start smiling — that’s a great feeling,” Greenway said. “The most frequent comment I get starts with how tight our vocals are and leads to what our hearts are about. That is exactly what we intend.”

Jencks said he hopes to touch people’s hearts and connect them with their own truth.

“We all move through the world with so much emotional armor, and music helps us shed that armor and be real for a while,” he said. “I think we make records more for our fans than for ourselves. It allows them to keep accessing that heart space that they love, even after the concert. It’s a way of keeping the breath of life flowing in the world. The practice of making music live — that too is the breath of life for us. It is the expression of our deepest truth.”