Brown Bird shape the sound of human existence

Ghosts in the marina
By CHRIS CONTI  |  May 25, 2011

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CAPTIVATING Lamb and Swain.

Last fall, Brown Bird officially downsized to two incredibly-talented partners in vocalist/guitarist/percussionist David Lamb and MorganEve Swain handling fiddle, cello, upright bass, and vocals. Their new EP The Sound of Ghosts (Supply & Demand Music) is another must-have, following the 2009 full-length The Devil Dancing. The EP is available at brownbird.bandcamp.com ($3.99 for the digital download and $7.99 for the limited-run disc). Swain and Lamb headlined one helluva good time at their release party last week at the Met. And Brown Bird will keep plenty busy leading up to their appearance at the Newport Folk Fest on July 31, touring throughout New England.

Lamb pens a particularly smooth yet subtly tense mash of outlaw country, roots, and American folk, much like their friends the Low Anthem, who invited the duo on a European trek a few months back. And last month red-hot the Devil Makes Three toured with Brown Bird for a week of West Coast dates; TDMT reciprocated with a special guest slot at the Met.

"Check check check," MorganEve Swain repeated while Lamb got comfortable seated behind a mic, small bass drum, various pedals, and an acoustic guitar. Lamb looked downright dapper in a relatively close-cropped beard, black jeans, and matching T-shirt (as opposed to the facial swarm of bees and animal hide he sports in recent promo pics). The brutal humidity level certainly did not subdue the dance moves that spontaneously broke out when they hit the accelerator on "Ragged Old Town." After a mellow number, Lamb announced, "And now for something completely different," as MorganEve's brother, violinist Spencer Swain (of Zox and Cowgirl), joined the duo on "Cast No Shadow," which resulted in a punk-style hoedown, as the Met's wooden planks received a thorough workout. The performers were all smiles while Swain continually plugged the "really fucking awesome new tour shirts" at the merch table.

With both feet working the drums while nimbly nailing notes on banjos and guitars, it's Lamb's voice (which our Jim Macnie accurately deemed "gruff but sweet") that captivates onstage; witness the simmering tension riding a potent thump on the chorus of "By the Reins," penned after a bad relationship. During our first encounter in 2009, Lamb told me, "I finally realized an upbeat song doesn't have to have upbeat lyrical content."

I dropped a line to Swain following the show last week and asked where Lamb whips up his tales of love and hope, deceit and despair.

"A lot of them were inspired by the boatyard where Dave works as a marine electrician, while others deal with the battles of good and evil and the question of our human existence — all themes that are everpresent in our songs."

At the Met, when the crowd was fully lathered, Lamb declared, "Okay, this one's for Warren," saluting his East Bay co-workers on "Rat Tail File," with the crowd comically clapping out of sync while Lamb shouted about the Fall River boys spending a "Saturday night of sin."

The band announced they'll release a full-length LP in the fall and will again record at Machines With Magnets ("Keith and Seth at MWM are both a pleasure to work with, and we're quite happy with the result," said Swain via email). "Yup, right here in the Bucket," Lamb said with a smile. Stay tuned to brownbird.net for updates on their busy summer itinerary.

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