It was nearly three years ago at a sweltering show in Pawtucket, I first really took notice of David Lamb’s tattoos, most notably the text across his knuckles. “COME” across one hand it said, and “HOME” across the other.
Those words took on a much different context about 10 months ago when Lamb was diagnosed with leukemia and was forced to cancel the band’s headlining tour. Waves of support followed, and Lamb was able to receive life-saving treatment. Some four months later, those words were reframed again when Lamb returned back to Rhode Island, a sign singing “Welcome Home!” draped across their Warren apartment.
The son of ministers, Lamb’s early songwriting seemingly centered around characters that neither sought nor found redemption. They weren’t always lovable but they were always interesting. Later lyrics shone light on a certain determinism, a resignation that the the world is cold, but you can “lay in the morning sun” once the work is complete. The band’s last album, the Thomas Paine-referencing Fits of Reason, was more outward gazing, reflective of Lamb’s truth-seeking spirit.
He charted his own course, leaving a stable (and well-paying) job working on electrical systems at Blount Boats to realize his vision. Brown Bird toured the United States and Europe, and played the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival. Bigger stages and brighter lights seemed all but inevitable, but Lamb would be the first one to tell you about the pitfalls of predetermination.
When asked the backstory of the tattoo that graced his knuckles, Lamb said:
I had just ended a seven-year relationship, and the other members of Brown Bird at the time were focusing on other projects. So I was out on the road alone for six months and also leaving a very high-paying job that I felt was locking me into a lifestyle I didn’t want. So the tattoo was to remind me that, however how far out I go, not just physically but emotionally and psychologically, I wanted to return to some sort of home base and not change the core elements of who I am in the midst of all this drastic change.
In just 35 short years, Lamb gave much of himself to the world, to his family, to his wife and bandmate MorganEve Swain, to his fans. Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that maybe now he is finally home
Words by Brian Hodge for Visible Voice