Reviews

What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood

Author: Ashley C. Woods
04/21/2010 | Real Detroit Weekly | www.realdetroitweekly.com | Album Review
With her long blonde hair and floaty dresses, Laura Burhenn is used to Dusty Springfield comparisons. But while Dusty had to write song lyrics on her hand to remember the words (thus the one-handed shimmy), every song on What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood is written by Laura's own hand. A better comparison is one of Dusty's original songwriters: Carole King.

When did it become uncool just to be a girl who writes good songs? True, it's easier to get airplay if you roll around in a heroin-dazed music video (Fiona Apple), or bang some drumsticks along with the ivories (Regina Spektor), or sell a hook like "1, 2, 3, 4 / Tell me that you love me more" to an iTunes commercial (Feist), or release an album of covers as yawningly predictable as Sinatra's "New York" (Cat Power). Yes, these are all talented women, but there's a gimmick, an outstretched hand beckoning an easier sell.

Then there's Laura Burhenn. After her power pop duo Georgia James ended, she decided to make an album that "felt like Neil Young doing Motown." And hey hey, my my, there's plenty of Shakey Deal and Smokey Robinson on What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood. Burhenn says she gathered around her, as she started to record, all her favorite people, books and records. We have to imagine, on the country-rock croon of "You've Got a Good Heart," she was raising a glass to Gram Parsons, or channeling the blue-eyed soul of J.D. Souther. The melody of "Numbers Don't Lie" sounds like Dusty cutting "Cruel to be Kind" impossible, but compelling.

Throughout the album, the comparisons to Carole King's Tapestry linger (Cat Power's The Greatest is also a front-runner, but isn't it just an homage to industry writers and musicians like King?). "Numbers Don't Lie" is an excellent example of the courage Burhenn and her producer Richard Swift (who's played and recorded with Wilco and the Cold War Kids) possess the willingness to let these songs wander and progress. There are pauses, overpowering sha-la-las and sudden flares of sound. Even though all the tricks and flourishes sound familiar, we can't quite peg exactly where the song goes next. That, and "What We Gained in the Fire," are the most accessible hits off a record of well-written tunes. But it's fun, too, when Burhenn leaves behind the nostalgic sways of white-girl blues for piano-heavy tracks like "Let the Record Go" and "Wash it Out," which owe as much to Spoon as any songstress imitation. We've read that she intends to play these songs live with more grit and swagger. Considering that the name of her band comes from The Mynah Birds, a near-mythical '60s R&B group that supposedly featured Rick James and Neil Young, that idea seems all too appropriate.

Carole King wasn't the sexiest, the flashiest or most famous singer of the '60s and '70s. But 40 years later, every girl worth her salt still knows the words to "I Feel the Earth Move" or "You Make Me Feel (Like a Natural Woman)." On this album of slow-burners and earth-shakers, Burhenn announces her ambition to take on Tapestry's songwriting legacy. She's not so far away.


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