Heavy, Mysterious and Idiosyncratic
Folk music’s history has roots in storytelling: in plots, characters, adventures and heartbreaks. Often, in modern folk, songwriters opt for romance rather than rollicking in lyrics. “I loved him/her, he/she didn’t love me back—now listen to the details for forty minutes” is usually the menu for folk or Americana bands. Rhode Island’s Brown Bird, however, rips that formula open. In Fits of Reason, they tell stories, explore celestial heavens and question philosophies through a unique style influenced by Middle Eastern music and psychedelic rock. But, rather than creating a hodgepodge of themes and sounds, the album is a clean and coherent declaration of this duo’s talent and style.
For a two-person band, Brown Bird’s instrumental and lyrical skills are impressive. David Lamb, the main singer and songwriter, leads most songs with his clear, just-rough-enough voice. But MorganEve Swain, his romantic and musical partner, lends her smooth alto on several songs—not to mention, any violin or fiddle mastery on the album is her work. “Bow For Blade,” a quirky old-timey sounding tune, showcases both Swain’s instrumental and vocal talent.
The most unique element of this record is the prominence of Middle Eastern and Eastern European technique, especially in the guitar parts and percussion. In “Nine Eyes,” Lamb and Swain’s voices spiral together in unison, repeating the melody like a cobra in a trance. “Ibis” features Eastern European-influenced guitar and violin solos to rival Gogol Bordello’s gypsy punk stylings.
Lamb’s lyricism stands front and center in every track. “Barren Lakes” is perhaps his best wordy work on the album. “The moons of flood / Barren lakes / reflecting lifelessness, reflecting rays / of suns of fire / a blood red rage / out of which we are born / into which is our fate.” These words not only create a specific, tangible image, but also conjure spiritual, philosophical questions. Lamb, it seems, has some history with English literature. His unique songwriting layered over the couple’s already impressive musical talent is what makes Brown Bird stand out. Yes, this is folk music, but it’s also heavy, mysterious and idiosyncratic. Most important of all, it’s authentic and fresh.