Brown Bird's Americana is made for great escapes
As ways to spend a lazy August day go, it sounds almost impossibly postcard-perfect, and only partly because David Lamb is lucky enough to be ensconced in idyllic New Hampshire. When he’s reached on the phone by the Straight, the singer-guitarist is hanging out at a summer home belonging to the folks of MorganEve Swain, his bandmate in the Americana duo known as Brown Bird. Added bonuses to this equation include the fact that said retreat is close to a gorgeous lake, and that Swain also happens to be his better half, which has given the two the opportunity to spend some serious quality time together.
“We’re up here for a week of vacation before we start going out on tour again,” Lamb says, sounding like a man who’s more than relaxed. “It’s very beautiful, especially this time of year. We’re basically a block from the lake. MorganEve’s dad has a little motorboat that we toodle around in during the day and we do some swimming. It’s really nice.”
In the same way that it’s easier to imagine Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam chopping wood by a river than driving a BMW around Manhattan, the setting Lamb and Swain find themselves in couldn’t be more suited to their sound. Brown Bird’s latest, the Americana-gothic gem Salt for Salt, is made for getting far away from the rush of the city, the unvarnished songs built on a foundation of acoustic guitar, plaintive banjo, clip-clop percussion, and mesmerizing slow-burn fiddle. The group’s great trick is that it doesn’t sound anything like a duo.
“With Salt for Salt, it was very minimal overdubs,” Lamb says. “We sort of had, in the back of our minds, the question ‘What will this sound like live?’ I’m glad that they come across as full-sounding on record because we were really trying to make sure that we didn’t limit ourselves.”
That idea of setting no boundaries seeps into the pool of influences that Brown Bird draws from. So while “Shiloh” is performed on acoustic six-string and burnished by gypsy-campfire fiddle, the guitar work is fast and intricate enough that you can easily imagine the track recast as a ride-the-lightning metal maelstrom. The same holds true for the backporch blues rambler “Bilgewater”, this making sense considering that Brown Bird is just as into Mastodon, Baroness, and Secret Chiefs 3 as the kind of Americana that used to pop up in the pages of No Depression. Lamb has no problem coming up with a connecting thread between what would seem to be wildly disparate genres.
“What moves me the most is just music where every instrument counts,” he says, “where everything plays an important role, and nothing is superfluous.”
As for the future of Brown Bird, Lamb suggests there’s a very real possibility that he and Swain won’t be exclusively devoted to Americana that makes you want to head to the lake on a hot summer day.
“I have a Gibson ES-125 that I bought at the end of last tour,” he notes. “We’re starting to do a lot more electric live. We did the Newport Folk Festival a couple of weeks ago, and pretty much played electric the whole time through. I do write on the electric guitar, but, almost for the simplicity of travelling, I tend to play acoustic while touring because we take so many instruments with us. To bring acoustic, electric, banjo, percussion, plus all the strings that MorganEve plays, has seemed like too much.”
Brown Bird plays Electric Owl on Tuesday (August 21).