Various – A Light I Can Feel: A Tribute to Brown Bird
Burst & Bloom Records – 2017
Brown Bird was a critically acclaimed band from Providence, Rhode Island with a shortened career but an enduring legacy. The husband-wife duo of Dave Lamb and Morganeve Swain made a significant mark on the Folk/Americana scene, earning exceptional reviews while building a dedicated fan base. They regularly appeared at events like the Newport Folk Festival until Lamb tragically succumbed to Leukemia in 2014.
A new release from the indie label Burst and Bloom Records brings together friends of the band for an extensive tribute. The album title, A Light I Can Feel, from a line in My Daddy’s a Preacher (covered admirably by Zach Tremblay), pretty much sums up the spirit of the release.
“Why wait for a light
At the end of the tunnel
When I’m surrounded by a light I can feel.”
Featuring a group of lesser known but deeply talented artists, A Light I Can Feel is a worthy addition to Brown Bird’s catalogue. A few of the many highlights include Devil Dancing, a love song about being saved from darkness. It’s one of Lamb’s best compositions, a humble poem to his partner Morganeve. Singer Jenee Halstead, showing off her inner Patti Griffin, performs it stunningly.
“I still hear the Devil’s voice sometimes
But its growing fainter with every night
And its mixing with the sounds of existence
In it’s home next to the light.”
Amelia Earhardt is another favourite, re-done solo by folk singer Dan Blakeslee and recorded in an airport – complete with boarding calls in the background – a little shadowy humour on a very melancholy release.
Needy Generator, tastefully re-worked by the band Ormalu, is hypnotic. It spins in the ethereal, quite unlike the more traditional Brown Bird version, from the first album Devil Dancing.
Additional highlights include Mara Flynn’s bittersweet I Was Blind, a minute and twelve seconds of pure bliss that found this listener clicking repeat more than once. The original recording closed Bottom of the Sea, Brown Bird’s first to include Swain.
Farthest Forests, a Maine duo featuring Anne Marple and Peter Squires, turn Blood of Angels into a ghostly harmonic romp. Lamb’s lyrics suggest a little back and forth with the devil.
“I drank the blood of angels from a bottle
just to see if I could call the lightning down
it hasn’t struck me yet and I would wage my soul to bet
that there ain’t no one throwing lightning anyhow.”
Lamb was a confessional lyricist, and his poetry reached deep into the heart. Severed Soul, performed by Dark Dark Dark is a distant echo stripped down to basics. Its dirge-like nature harkens back to the work of William Blake:
“Lord lift me up from this cold earth
Let judgment day declare my worth
For if my love should not want me
By death alone would I be free”
Although labelled Americana, the band’s influences were far and wide. Behind Lamb’s vocals and Swain’s violin, Brown Bird was known for murky Roots/Folk that often challenged the Americana “establishment.” By their final album Axis Mundi, Lamb and Swain had embraced a variety of complex worldly sounds, among them Romani, Blues and Middle Eastern. The 2015 release was strong enough to get the attention of NPR and the New York Times.
Ultimately, Dave Lamb’s catalogue is full of love songs to his muse and partner, Morganeve Swain. After Lamb’s death, Swain went on to establish the equally eclectic band, Huntress and the Holder of Hands. She continues to perform in other projects with a collection of talented New England artists at everything from house concerts to major events like Newport Folk.
Brown Bird’s journey continues with this release. A Light I Can Feel is that rare cover album that expands the sound of the band, adding to their legacy. Listeners who want to join that continuing voyage should check it out.
A Light I can Feel is released by Burst & Bloom Records in Dave Lamb’s memory, to raise money for Sweet Relief (provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems), and to continue to share the music of Brown Bird with the world.
1. South China My Mind Is An Altar
2. Micah Blue Smaldone Danger and Dread
3. Melaena Cadiz Wrong Black Mare
4. Tiger Saw Bilgewater
5. Ormolu Needy Generator
6. Dave Simonett End of Days
7. Mara Flynn I Was Blind
8. Guy Capecelatro III Weathering
9. Dark Dark Dark Severed Soul
10. Fiddle Heirs Slack Jawed
11. I Love You & I Miss You David and Bathsheeba
12. Nat Baldwin Ebb and Flow
13. Farthest Forests Blood of Angels
14. Zach Tremblay My Daddy’s a Preacher
15. Audrey Ryan By the Reins
16. Dan Blakeslee Amelia Earhart
1. Matt Bauer Colorado
2. The Devil Makes Three Fingers to the Bone
3. Vio/Miré Lake Bed
4. Joe Fletcher Mabel Grey
5. Anna Vogelzang Black Sea
6. Andy Arch Barren Lakes
7. Northern Lioness
8. Peter Squires Hardly a Man of my Word
9. Littlegun A Temple and a Cradle
10. Eastern Mountain Time A Few More Drinks
11. Lososos Taurus
12. Jonah Tolchin Thunder and Lightning
13. Jenee Halstead Devil Dancing
14. Breakfastsong Blue is the Weather
15. The Landladys Down to the River
16. Wesley Hartley A Sun That Won’t Go Down
You can hear more tracks from the album in our Mix: Lost in Transmission No. 27