Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Patrick Stolley at Futureappletree Too
The paths that Brown Bird's Dave Lamb walks along are heavy paths with all kinds of things grabbing at his ankles. Most of the time, it sounds as if those things trying to get holds are the hands of ghosts reaching up from the graves, poking out of the dirt and feeling for something warm. There's no telling what any of them will do with the leg, with him if they get a grip that can't be shaken from, but it seems like Lamb might know how to handle himself in such a situation. He seems to roam around a bit - and has been for years - and he knows what it's like to have the hounds and the wolves panting at his pant legs. He seems to know how to keep them honest, or at bay. He seems to know that they like red meat, but they'll eat other things to, if they have to, and they can be reasoned with, in a very specific way that he's been able to hone. He gravitates to these wolves and is up for watching them do whatever it is that they're going to do. With a name like Lamb, it sure is interesting and right to have such concerns about the actions and behaviors of these creatures. They seem to wander through the ragged and wounded towns that he pulls up in his writings. They seem to do as they please. They're real and then they're not real anymore, just the buttons that get pressed, the memories or figments of imaginations that are drawn upon to cause the lights or the darkness to work a fragile head.
He sings on "Nothing Left," "Outside there cry wolves in the night/Dark with their howls all around/We'll just lie here clothed in our sheepskin/Trying to pretend there's no harm/It's a cold twist confined/To the courage of a catalytic heart and mind/Over God's cry and goat's god's goodbye/And I am bloodying the garment/Of a ghost inside/Making damn sure the body doesn't die." It's that cold twist, confined, that's the design of a man who gets that cold twists are centralized, but not really confined. He's just having some fun with us. Another song that Lamb performed on this session features the wolves again - perhaps the exact same ones, like a family's pets - but they've taken different forms in their newer hauntings, only creating an illusion on their presence. It had to have seemed real. It usually does where that are howls of any kind, but as Lamb sings, "Now she won't go outside to see there ain't no wolf, just a boy howlin' up toward the sky/Don't they howl up to the sky?" we see how the wolves can win without even being there to hunt and prowl.
We like to think that Lamb tends to know many of the ways that we can make ourselves scared and the many ways that we can bolster those fears, or medicate against them. He seems to know that all bones do rattle. They shake vigorously, even though hanging out in the bodies of people who appear to be strong and put together, those who would punch a wolf in the face, in mid-flight, should it ever lunge for them. It all comes down to his general theory, which he weaves in so many incarnations through all of his pastoral, folkish songs, and that is that, "Every day is like a war between the will to go on and a wish that the world would spiral into the sun." What you want to see happen never stays the same.
*Essay originally published February, 2012