Alt-Nation: Brown Bird’s Final Album

Brown Bird – Axis Mundi (Supply and Demand Music)

The loss of Brown Bird founder Dave Lamb to leukemia last year was devastating to the local music community and beyond. It wasn’t supposed to end that way.  Lamb was too young, a mere 36. I interviewed Lamb days before Brown Bird was set to go on what turned out to be their final tour on the eve of the release of 2013’s Fits of Reason (Supply and Demand Music). He was excited about unveiling the record and bringing the music to the people on the road. Life sometimes is cruelly unpredictable in the way fortunes can suddenly change.

The tour had to be cancelled a little over a week in, when Lamb starting feeling ill and was eventually diagnosed with leukemia. The final Brown Bird album, Axis Mundi, was recorded in the apartment shared by Lamb and his partner in life and in Brown Bird, MorganEve Swain. Lamb would record and write when he had the strength between treatments and for the brief time the leukemia was in remission. After Lamb’s passing, Swain, an accomplished fiddler who also plays upright bass and cello, recorded additional parts to complete their shared vision with the help of her brother, Spencer Swain, and engineer Seth Manchester from Machines With Magnets. The end result is an eerily beautiful record.

The title Axis Mundi comes from a phrase that Swain came across in one of Lamb’s notebooks, and it means “where heaven meets the earth.” While some of the tunes were written before Lamb’s diagnosis, it is impossible not to think about the tunes in the context of his situation. Many of the lyrics examine the fragility of life. Axis Mundi doesn’t waste any time when it comes to providing raw moments that will give you the chills. The opening track, “Focus,” starts with Lamb’s chant-like singing, “Tethered to the cure, I focus on the pain. Transformation comes. Tempered by the flame, and if this flesh should fail, devour me from within. May then my soul prevail, free to roam again.” Swain’s vocals kick in to meld perfectly with Lamb’s while adding a haunting siren ambience to the song.bbF

Brown Bird gets lumped into the folk category because of Lamb’s evocative narrations, but they’ve never fit in any one category. Tunes like “Bannerman” and “Blood From the Tree” have a Middle Eastern feel. The instrumental “Aloha Senor Mano” has a roaming gypsy surf rock vibe. “Pale and Paralyzed” is a rocker. On “Raging Squall” and “Smoke Rising,” Brown Bird sound like a metal band playing folk tunes. While the themes of mortality and spirituality are littered throughout Axis Mundi, Brown Bird sounds like a band at the peak of power throughout. There are tender moments that tug at the heartstrings, like Swain’s “Tortured Boy” lullaby to Lamb. On the closing “Avalon,” Lamb returns the love, ending with the line “your heart is the Avalon I seek for my end.”

On Axis Mundi Lamb and Swain journey to the place the title is based from. Created in the fires of uncertain mortality and pieced together in the throes of anguish and grief, against all odds Brown Bird have triumphed over adversity and sound more alive than ever. Nothing can change the tragedy that Dave Lamb left this world too soon. However, through Axis Mundi and the rest of Brown Bird’s catalogue, Lamb will live on forever in the hearts of all he touched. His light will never dim nor fade away.

The Skatalites

The Skatalites are celebrating 50 years of rock-steady ska. The band is kind of like the Roomful of Blues of ska, where members change, but the institution lives on. In fact, a quick check of their Wikipedia page reveals that all their founding members have passed. I caught them a few years ago, though, and the party still rages. Hailing from Jamaica, The Skatalites were pioneers in the evolution of ska from reggae. Their sound has influenced everyone from Bob Marley, The Specials and even more contemporary bands like Reel Big Fish. This will be a show for the ages!

The Skatalites, Soulshot, The Thad Merrit Trio bring the rasta good time vibes to the Spot Underground on May 7.

Melt-Banana

Legendary Japanese noise band Melt-Banana returns to these shores for what is sure to be a humdinger of a show. For over 20 years Melt-Banana have been sculpting jams by mixing experimental noise, punk, grindcore and even electronic into traditional song structures. I missed Melt-Banana the last time they were at AS220 so I’m especially looking forward to this show. Their shows at the Living Room back in the day were just an amphetamine fueled rock ‘n’ roll assault on the senses.

Melt-Banana will rock AS220 on May 19.  

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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