Brown Bird: Folk's Tattooed Troubadours
American folk music has a long tradition of songwriting duos who work miracles with just two voices, from Simon & Garfunkel and Ian & Sylvia to the contemporary likes of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, on through the distorted gutter-punk cigar-box-banjo shredding of Hymn for Her. There's always room for more.
Carrying on in this vibrant tradition is the Rhode Island duo Brown Bird, which incorporates guitar, cello, double bass, kick drum, wood blocks, banjo and tambourine into its sets — often all within a single song. As compelling as it is to see two people make so many sounds with no extra help, the key is the energy, passion and sheer musicality of it all.
It hasn't taken Brown Bird long to drum up support in the world of folk and roots music. You can see why in this video for "A Temple and a Cradle," recorded during this year's Green River Festival in Greenfield, Mass. According to Dave Lamb (guitar, banjo, percussion), "It's an older song that we hadn't played in a while. It's inspired by my brother's battle with leukemia from his childhood and overcoming hardships in general."
Indeed, both the cradle and the temple are places of rest, recovery and the pursuit of the strength to move forward. They're strong images with a long-standing place in traditional music — longer, even, than that of two-person bands.