Review: Brown Bird @ Mechanic Street House Concerts, Cleveland, Ohio

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by Zach Bloom for FolkAlley.com (concert photos by Thomas Fox)

Folk music, in all traditions, spawns from communal activity bringing people together to share in a cultural fusion of life, love, hardships and happiness through the experience of live music. The popular folk-duo, Brown Bird exemplified this point in a rare intimate performance Sunday evening (6/3) at a Mechanic Street House Concert , a family-run house concert series in a fascinating 100-year-old house located in the Ohio City neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. “This is a great way to end this tour and you’ve made our trip to Cleveland a really special experience,” exclaimed guitarist David Lamb as he spoke to those who were lucky enough to secure their entry through the venue’s private email RSVP process.


As their bio states, Brown Bird is “better listened to in a room made of wood,” and indeed this was a fortunate affair to watch David Lamb and MorganEve Swain deliver their dark and catchy blend of blues, folk and rockabilly soul from an elegant living room adorned with wood-carved moldings and archways reflecting the decadence of a once prominent home in the heart of industrial Cleveland. Hailing from Warren, RI, which according to Lamb is “the smallest town in the smallest county of the smallest state in the country,” Brown Bird’s performance to an enthusiastic crowd in the smallest venue in Cleveland was a fitting finale as this band ventures home from a recent tour with the bluegrass juggernaut, Trampled by Turtles.

The show kicked off with a fiery pace featuring songs off the duo’s latest album Salt for Salt, including “Fingers to the Bone,” an up-tempo composition featuring David Lamb on banjo and vocals, as well as MorganEve Swain on double bass, and “Thunder & Lightning” with Lamb on guitar while pounding at foot percussions that project prominently throughout the bands’ music. Soon thereafter, “Come My Way” featured MorganEve Swain on cello and supporting vocals where she demonstrated her virtuosity on the stringed instruments by displaying a range of pizzicato dynamics as she snapped and slapped at her untraditional color painted fret board in sequence with regular arco bowing.


Throughout the performance Swain showed a breadth of technicality and talent as she gracefully transitioned from double bass to the cello and ultimately to the fiddle in a continuous cycle, which aided the flow of the show’s delivery. A great example of her impressive playing came in the second set during the song “Nothing Left” where Swain bows a Slavic rhythmic melody on the cello and engages in dynamic interplay with Lamb’s guitar through a series of upbeat verses and a signifying chorus. This fast-paced dynamism continued in the instrumental “Shilo,” another song off Salt for Salt, where the cello and the guitar are engaged in a percussive battle that culminates in a fantastic melody with Lamb slapping his guitar and stomping on his downbeat foot shaker crafted with a screwdriver’s handle for a mallet.

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“We’ll play one more for you, on the condition that some of you get up and dance,” Lamb stated at the end of the second set with a serious gleam towards the crowd who had remained seated and respectful of the close environment in the venue throughout the evening. Several folks in the crowd took to their feet with agility to indulge the wishes of the guitarist as Brown Bird closed out the evening playing an encore with the beat-driven fiddle focused song “Cast No Shadow,” again off of the new record Salt of Salt. The audience clapped loudly while a cohort of dancers let lose in the obstructed, and therefore previously unoccupied, front hall of the house to close out the evening in traditional folk fashion. The unique experience of this bi-monthly pop-up music venue and the energy of this road vindicated band is a memory that all in attendance got to take home with them to begin their first summery weeks of June. Adding to that, guests at the Mechanic Street House also received the unique thrill of getting to know wonderfully talented artists and enjoying the company of new and old friends from the vastly cultural Cleveland community.

You can catch Brown Bird again on dates in June at folk festivals throughout the Northeast, including the Newport Folk Festival, after which their next tour may pick up in late August out to the west coast of the country. Hopefully you can catch Brown Bird playing more in intimate wooden-made venues for you to truly experience the depths of their sound, but if that opportunity doesn’t cross your path “you may be able to catch us with Yonder Mountain String Band again soon,” Lamb said candidly. That would surely be a treat for all of us folk and bluegrass fans.

(More from Zach Bloom at Tumbler.com.)

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