In from the wild
Brown Bird plays dark folk for Kids and Creeks benefit
In the space between its last two albums, Rhode Island’s Brown Bird shed three of its five members, settling into a duo of David Lamb and MorganEve Swain.
It’s hard to tell there wasn’t a room full of musicians backing the pair as they recorded their most recent effort, Salt for Salt, as perfect harmonies melt over layered instruments (Swain plays upright bass, cello, violin; Lamb plays guitar, banjo, kick drum, tambourine and woodblock foot pedals) throughout the album. Salt was recorded live to tape without benefit of multi-tracking, but there’s nary a beat skipped or measure not milked to the fullest as the two at times switch instruments mid-song throughout the album’s decidedly dark musical journey.
Stripped to the bare essentials, Brown Bird has been making waves through the modern folk scene populated by contemporaries and sometime touring or festival mates like Trampled by Turtles and The Devil Makes Three. The band’s appearance at the Chico Women’s Club on Sunday, April 15 (a benefit for local educational organization Kids and Creeks), comes on a rare night off from their current tour with Yonder Mountain String Band.
Brown Bird plans to take full advantage of the opportunity to switch gears: “Our set will definitely be different than the opening set we’ve been doing.” Swain said. “We’ll have a little more time to play songs we don’t get to do every night, and maybe throw some new songs into the mix.”
The band played Chico last November with the aforementioned Devil Makes Three. “Our tour manager made us walk all around the city to find the taco truck he remembered from a previous tour but didn’t remember how to get to, but it was definitely worth it once we found it,” Swain recalled.
She also remembered the onstage action that tour, especially what she said is, in Brown Bird’s experience, a surprisingly rare occurrence among caravanning acoustic musicians—collaborating with other bands: “It happens every once in a while, but usually there’s just not enough time for it. We’re also not a traditional band, and don’t know any traditional songs, except for some fiddle tunes that I’ll remember if someone reminds me of them.
“We started joining [Devil Makes Three] on stage for ‘St. James Infirmary Blues,’ which was incredibly fun, and probably as close to ‘jamming’ as we really get.”
The band tours rigorously, with recent hallmarks including their first visit to South by Southwest last month and forays to Europe and Brazil. “We were in Austin for five days and played eight shows,” Swain said of SXSW. “It’s just about as crazy and hectic as we’d always feared, but it was also really fun. It’s pretty amazing to be part of an atmosphere that is so open to all different music, and hear it constantly. Next time, we might scale it down to one show per day, but we’ll see.”
When asked how foreign audiences respond to American roots music, Swain said, “We got a really great reception in Brazil last year. We really didn’t know what to expect there, and everything we experienced—the food, the people, the city, the audience—was way more than we’d ever imagined.
“The audiences in Europe are amazing too. Almost every American musician who has toured overseas says the same thing about European audiences—they are much more respectful than Americans. Audiences are quiet and come to hear the music, not just participate in a social event and drink. They’re always incredibly receptive and friendly.”
The band’s Chico host, Kids and Creeks, works with local schools and other organizations to teach kids about science, nature and the arts, and the nonprofit has regularly reached out to musicians to help raise money for its programs. This is the third in series of three benefit concerts they’ve hosted at Chico Women’s Club this year (previous headliners included troubadour Brett Dennen and The Good Luck Thrift Store Outfit), and last summer, musicians from such local bands as the Poa Porch Band, The Perpetual Drifters and The Railflowers contributed classic folk songs to a benefit compilation CD called Children’s Songs for All Big and Small.
Brown Bird is happy to do their part: “We’ve played quite a few benefits,” Swain said. “It’s nice to be part of a show that gives something back to a community.”