Band of brothers

Like many brothers, James and John Beasley weren't exactly inseparable while growing up. A five-year age difference meant different schools, different sets of friends and different interests.

But today they're closer than ever, thanks to their acoustic duo known as Elliot Road.

"I think music is something that's really brought us together," James said. "We're the best of friends now."

The Beasleys, who released their first studio CD in February, play Friday at the Artichoke and Saturday at Riverside Perk. Both shows are free.

The brothers — James is 31, John is 26 — grew up in Phoenix and Pennsylvania, moving to Wichita with their parents a decade ago.

They took the name of their band from an Arizona rock band their father, David, performed in. James and John have played together since middle school. For a while, they concentrated on alternative rock.

But seeing "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," the 2000 movie built around a soundtrack of traditional American tunes, set them on an acoustic track and led them to discover many of the progressive folk artists — such as Gillian Welch and Nickel Creek — they consider major influences on their playing and songwriting.

"It seemed to us like music that spoke to a broader audience of people," James said.

Achieving the kind of clean, stripped down, effect-free sound they were after meant becoming better musicians, in his words.

"You can hide in a rock sound. When you're playing acoustic, it either works or it doesn't."

Between them they've picked up mandolin, banjo and harmonica in addition to guitar.

Nevertheless, John said, "I'd say the primary feature of our shows are our vocal harmonies together."

They also wanted their original tunes — which make up most of their sets — to be of a high quality before making a professional recording. Feeling they'd reached that point, they spent nine days this winter in Wichita's Brickhouse Studio recording their CD, which is called "The Dust Covered Man." Violinist Jenny Bowen appears on several tracks.

The title is taken from a nickname given to Ulysses S. Grant, but the songs aren't about the Civil War (although the music of Ken Burns' Civil War documentary was another big influence).

"We're saying life is not easy," James said. "The dust-covered man could be a character in any of these songs. He's the Everyman. We write songs about the Everyman."

Indeed, the brothers try to avoid writing lyrics that are explicitly "about" anything, hoping everyone will find their own meaning.

That's been happening more and more, they say. In the past year they've played shows in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Nebraska and Oklahoma in addition to regular stops at Mead's Corner, the Donut Hole and Rock Island Live in Wichita.

They'd like to develop into a regional act with Wichita as their base. Whatever happens, it's the people who come up after shows to say the brothers' harmonies lifted their spirits who make it worthwhile.

"That means more than any acclaim we could ever get," John said.

If you go

Elliot Road

What: Acoustic duo

When and where: 8 p.m. Friday, Artichoke, 811 N. Broadway; 8 p.m. Saturday, Riverside Perk, 1144 N. Bitting

How much: Free.

For more information, go to www.elliotroad.com.