Album Review: The Mynabirds – What We Lose In the Fire We Gain in The Flood

The Mynabirds is a new kind of old band. Somewhere lurking in the musical recesses, there was a band called The Mynah Birds with a Motown sound and a certain Neil Young in its line-up; thus, you might think you’ve heard of these Mynabirds when you haven’t. Anyhow, the new birds are fronted by ex-Georgie James popster blondie, Laura Burhenn who, like lots of good things these days, comes out of the state of Oregon. Burhenn dishes out powerful white gospel tinged soul with shades of blues and country amid strident pianos, churchy organs, chugging guitars, and crisp percussion horns n’ harmonies. It’s a highly charged and very listenable mix, delivered by a singer with a style that goes beyond the big on blonde hair and eye make-up look.

The epigrammatically titled What We Lose In the Fire We Gain in The Flood was recorded by Burhenn and singer-songwriter/producer Richard Swift in the summer of 2009 with the help of some guest musicians. To reinforce the Biblical tones of that title, the cover art shows the back of the singer in the sepia toned setting of an austere chapel.  The songs are all written by Burhenn and both she and Swift are heard on an impressive selection of instruments between them. The Mynabirds was then subsequently put together as a live band to tour the album, a project that Burhenn sees very much as a collective. Laura Burhenn is blessed with a rich and at times surprisingly full-blown voice and wears her influences on her sleeve. But though the record harks back to the kind of music she grew up with, there is a contemporary gloss to it which comes from the upfront mix, not forgetting the selection of strong songs which make up this debut.

“What We Gained In The Fire” is a particularly resonant opener, providing a neat lyric twist on the album title. It’s by far the longest song here and balances regret with an uplifting mood, emphasised by the rasping chorus and full-on coda. It’s followed by “Let The Record Go” which has shades of April Smith about it, vocally and in the way the song is constructed. The song hits the ground running and has a great stomping piano underpinning it, along with snatches of white space as relief. It’s a great example of simplicity at work: the direct delivery of conviction. “The Numbers Don’t Lie” makes it three corkers in a row. This is a slower paced song, lyrically self-assured,  but again has that heavy signature piano and features some neat Motown percussion along with quieter moments of light and shade.

There are less convincing things here, but they don’t detract from the overall impression that Laura Burhenn has great musicality and stuff to say in her own right.  “Give It Time” is a more routine and laboured blues, and her vocal seems less at ease with the song.  “Wash It Out” is a bit sub-Regina Spektor without the charm, and the spin cycle is over far too soon. “We Made A Mountain” is a big tune sung with passion and conviction, but the lyrics outshine the more obvious melody line. “Good Heart” which closes the record seems a standard country ballad, redeemed by further demonstration of Burhenn’s vocal range and some great pedal steel from guest player, Tom Hnatow of These United States.

Any of these doubts are dispelled though by gems like “Ways of Looking”, a stripped-bare guitar and percussion-backed song with a great melody line which gives Burhenn a vehicle for a purer yet more languid vocal. “LA Rain” has the singer in Carole King territory, and her smoky, assured delivery adds to the sense that we could be hearing a classic from times past. The reflective, regretful “Right Place” has the refrain “Every little thing when it falls / it falls in its right place,” underlining a sense of destiny which pervades the whole album. Its Lennon-esque melody is spot on.

With just ten songs and a little over 30 minutes running time, this album doesn’t overstay its welcome, but that’s no bad thing. There is a tightness and focus to the material that steers admirably clear of the indulgence trap. It makes most of the songs here instantly memorable, and the best ones stand out which may get the record the radio plays it needs to reach a wider audience. Laura Burhenn has evolved from her indie roots into a performer with mainstream possibilities and this is surely the start of bigger things for The Mynabirds.


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