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Brown Bird

Salt for Salt

(Supply & Demand; US: 18 Oct 2011; UK: 18 Oct 2011 (Import))

Rhode Island folk duo Brown Bird’s Salt for Salt is an extended spiritual rave-up of folk and blues which rages darkly on, expressing the eternal human battle to remain relevant through conflict and challenge. This is the folk album for people who love folk music and want it to remain devoid of anything commercial, a blistering testimonial recorded live to tape, capturing the band’s emotionally rich, honest musical missive. Though you may think I’m bubbling over with unnecessarily florid praise, a listen to Salt for Salt in full will convince you I’m speaking truth.

David Lamb makes his mission clear at the start of “Bilgewater”, which stands as the album’s most thoroughly original work of folk gold: “When every day is like a war between the will to go on and a wish that the world would spiral into the sun / Turn your head toward the storm that’s surely coming along”. It’s hard to top that line for sheer force of will, but the album is full of great lyrical moments like that one, as the music— a rich wall of guitar, banjo, violin, double bass, cello and bass drum—combine to form a rich aural palate via which Lamb and MorganEve Swain choose to paint.

There’s a sense of gypsy influence, a folk-punk vibe to the arrangements throughout Salt for Salt, almost a merging of traditional folk with more left-field examples of folk alternatives. Vandaveer definitely comes to mind almost immediately on “Blood of Angels”, as Lamb sings hauntingly of an internal battle of good versus evil: “I drank the blood of angels from a bottle just to see if I could call the lightning down,” he sings. “It hasn’t struck me yet”. The upbeat nature of the arrangements belies the dark nature of the fate-tempting lyrics, and the song stands out as a prime example of what makes Brown Bird stand above any of their contemporaries.

But the album is made whole by the slowed-down simmer of “Ebb and Flow”, a bluegrass ode to tidal predictability, punctuated by half-note bass drum beats which makes the harmonized vocals stand out and burn like a signal flare. The song singlehandedly turns the entire listening experience on its ear, coloring what we’ve already heard in a way which demands a return to the beginning. This is one of those albums which rewards both close listening and repeated opportunities to hear the songs in succession, making each repetition rewarding in its own right.

An example of haunting classicist folk from artists who know what they’re talking about, Salt for Salt is hands down the best folk album I’ve heard this year, stunningly arranged and executed. This album is a spectacular example of what can be done within the framework of traditional music to push it into the headphones of a new generation, without falling victim to incongruous stabs of modernity. It also signals the fully-formed arrival of Brown Bird as a band you’ll be hearing a great deal from in the future.


Jonathan Sanders writes from Tell City, Indiana, where he lives with his wife Aimee. A 2008 graduate of Ball State's Journalism school with degrees in Magazine Writing / Design and History, Sanders has written extensively for Stereo Subversion, among other online publications. He currently edits "Hear! Hear!", a pop-music centered online blog, and writes for PopMatters and Pajamas Media. He has a voracious appetite for new music, and bristles at the thought that some still believe good music died with [insert band name here.]

Brown Bird - "Bilgewater" (Live)
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