Romantic relationships have ruined a lot of great bands over the years‚ so you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a bad idea for David Lamb to part ways with three band mates and record as a duo with partner MorganEve Swain. And though two people can't expect to capture the makeshift folk orchestra vibe of 2009's The Devil Dancing‚ Lamb & Swain's intimate‚ inspired and focused follow up has its fair share of handclapping‚ foot stomping goodness. Rather than attempting to recreate the lushness of Devil DancingSalt For Salt captures the spontaneous energy of Brown Bird's live shows. I was fortunate enough to see Brown Bird perform about a month ago‚ and it was amazing how dense the duo's sound was. Swain set the mood with upright bass and cello while Lamb swapped between banjo and guitar‚ all the while keeping rhythm with a kick drum. Salt for Salt recreates the frantic multitasking; the music can all be performed by two people‚ but you won't believe it until you see them in action.
Anyone worried about the Brown Bird's minimized lineup will be relieved to know that everything that made the band great is still in the mix. Lamb's lyrics still create vivid images ("swing down that sledgehammer through the wood‚ a little test of mind over flesh oughta do you good")‚ he's still a master of creating a mood (with the eerie whistling intro to "Chairkickers")‚ and Swain's increased vocal role provides welcome variety ("Bilgewater‚" "End of Days"). Common themes of sin and life on the open sea also return‚ further connecting Salt to the rest of the Brown Bird canon.
What's most impressive about Salt is the way it ignores the traditional genre stereotypes of a folk duet. "Shiloh" finds Lamb obsessing over a gradually building Eastern European hook while chaotic outbursts of hand claps‚ cello and percussion swarm around him. And album standout "Thunder & Lighting" starts with a slow‚ sexy blues riff before launching into a foot stomping sing along‚ deftly displaying Lamb's tempo manipulation skills. Brown Bird's supporting cast may be sitting this album out‚ but Salt for Salt is proof that the band's core is still intact and thriving.