8 p.m. Dec. 16, Cafe Nine, 250 State St. $8. (203) 789-8281, cafenine.com.
This has been a year of change for David Lamb and MorganEve Swain, the Rhode Island-based folk/Americana duo better known as Brown Bird. "Duo" is the operative word, as the band, originally a quintet, pared down to just Lamb and Swain for their recently released fifth album, Salt for Salt.
"Stripping down to a two-piece was a big difference," says Lamb from the band's Dallas tour stop. "On The Devil Dancing, our last full length, we were a five piece, so it changed the way we went about arranging the songs. It's been a fun challenge to arrange the new songs as a two-piece and try to make them as full as possible. We feel like we did a pretty good job with it."
Beyond a handful of one-off dates, this year also marks the first time Lamb and Swain have toured extensively as a duo, although Swain's brother Spencer has tagged along to play utility violin on the song "Shiloh," a role he fulfilled on Salt for Salt.
"Other than that, it's just the two of us," says Lamb. "We did a couple of minor overdubs but for the most part, it pretty much just like what we do live."
For just two people, a guest violinist and some background overdubbing, Salt for Salt is an extremely big-sounding record. And although Lamb and Swain utilize instruments typically associated with bluegrass (banjo, dulcimer, violin), Brown Bird — which Lamb started as a side project in 2003 — doesn't much resemble bluegrass, instead hewing closer to the folk gentility of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and occasionally tapping into the folk rock swagger of Timbuk 3 with an undercurrent of DeVotchka.
"Some of the biggest influences on this album have the eastern European gypsy flair," says Lamb. "Things have gotten more upbeat in general, and a little more blues has come into the picture. MorganEve has been a fiddler in all kinds of music; she had a little classical training when she was young, but she quickly oriented herself to a Cape Breton and bluegrass style. She brought that, and I'm challenged by her musicianship, so that inspired me to be a better guitarist and player."
After 2009's The Devil Dancing, Jeremy and Jerusha Robinson took time off to pursue their side project, South China, leaving Lamb, Swain and Mike Samos to take the album out on the road.
"We were touring a lot as a three piece in support of an album that was recorded as a five piece. so that was already kind of an interesting change," says Lamb.
Brown Bird made their Newport Folk Festival debut this year, an appearance that many critics hailed as the duo's breakthrough. "Newport was really fun," says Lamb in a classic understatement. "The timing worked out really well."