Running with the Devil

Making a connection with Brown Bird
By CHRIS CONTI  |  October 29, 2009

 LOCAL_BrownBird_main
STRING-DRIVEN THING Lamb (center) and his Brown Bird mates.

The surge of locally-harvested folk/roots/Americana acts flourishing in Rhode Island continues, and the new full-length from Brown Bird, The Devil Dancing (Peapod Recordings), is another noteworthy ’09 release from what most of us lump into the “indie-” or “alt-” folk category. Their fourth album in five years, Devil is Brown Bird’s most vibrant and lively release, and the added instrumentation (including Micah Blue Smaldone on upright bass and Barn Burning’s MorganEve Swain playing ukulele and cello) highlights the charismatic, sometimes unnerving narratives of lead singer/songwriter David Lamb (sharing vocal duties with female Swain and Jerusha Robinson). Textbook jazz bass lines mingle with accordion and lap steel to create “surging waves of Appalachian, gypsy, and shanty music” (aptly stated on MySpace.com/BrownBird) on The Devil Dancing, available starting next weekend at their CD release party at Firehouse 13. Their acclaimed live act has not gone unnoticed by their peers; the Low Anthem handpicked Brown Bird (and Death Vessel) to open their recent show at the Avon Theater.

Although Portland, Maine is now considered home base for Brown Bird (where the band and label first formed), marine electrician Lamb, along with Swain and Mike Samos (who appears on the excellent Tallahassee debut), reside in Rhode Island, and the hometown CD release show kicks off a tour spanning northern New England, upstate New York, and pair of shows in Brooklyn.

The Devil Dancing could be deemed uptempo by standard folk-infused standards, “I finally realized an upbeat song doesn’t have to have upbeat lyrical content,” he told me last week. “By the Reins” fits the bill, a slow-cooked, table-stomping “relationship song written at a pretty low point,” Lamb confessed (“Please don’t hold me too tightly by the reins for I will kick and I will buck and I will run right out the nearest open gate” goes the hook). In contrast, “Severed Soul” (with Swain on lead vocals) is aching to land on a wedding playlist: “With you I see what life is for/If you should go where would I be,” Lamb and Swain harmonize over violin and banjo. But Lamb also incorporates some emotionally-twisted lullabies, similar to Route .44’s Ian Lacombe or Crooked Fingers croaker Eric Bachmann, and “Wrong Black Mare” is the album’s most stirring number. What starts with “Daddy laid it all on the wrong black mare/Hopped the next train to God knows where/but God don’t go where your daddy’s goin’ ” ends with “You woke screaming to a frightening sound and your mama laying on the ground/a bad man runnin’ down the backdoor stairs/Blame it all on the wrong black mare.”

Lamb is looking forward to debuting new tracks like album openers “Danger and Dread” and the fiery gospel preacher vibe of “Down To the River” for the Providence crowd after a handful of recent warmup shows in Vermont and Maine, “Whether we’re playing in a loud bar or at a quiet house show, these songs have been the most rewarding to perform,” Lamb said. “You can literally feel a connection with the audience.”  

BROWN BIRD + WRONG REASONS + NEED TALL FIRES + ALEC K. REDFEARN | Firehouse 13, 41 Central Street, Providence | Sunday, November 8 @ 8 pm | 401.270.1801 | $7

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