What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
Author: K. Ross Hoffman
Ornithologically speaking, myna birds are noted for their talented vocal mimicry, which makes them a partially fitting but ultimately misleading namesake for this musical brainchild of singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn. True, the Mynabirds' debut outing does an uncanny job recapturing the spirits of its 1960s-era influences -- artists like Carole King, Bobbie Gentry, Jackie DeShannon, and Dusty Springfield who mined the fertile crossroads of soul, country, folk, and pop -- and much of that is due to Burhenn's marvelously rich, earthy vocal presence. But the effect is more an evocation of a certain vital, timeless mood than the re-creation of any specific sound; the album has a genuine warmth and tenderness that extend far beyond impersonation, and despite the undeniably vintage feel it's blatantly reductive to label it "retro." For one thing, these sounds have been broached frequently enough in recent years from various angles -- Leslie Feist's urbane soul-pop, Jenny Lewis' and Neko Case's roots-country redefinitions and, especially, Cat Power's Memphian sojourns all come to mind -- that they hardly sound out of place in the indie music world circa 2010. But Burhenn, working here with producer and fellow pop nostalgiast Richard Swift, makes them her own. The sepia-tinted cover image makes a good analog: it looks archival, but that's actually Burhenn -- an iconic, doe-eyed blonde -- seated in a church pew in a shot that underscores the album's pronounced devotional bent (with just a vague, impious hint of Dusty waiting to meet that son of a preacher man), That the gospel strains here, evident throughout but especially conspicuous on the thumping, slow-burning title track with its ineffable, pseudo-biblical mantra, are informed by Burhenn's readings of Jung and Sufi poetry (and her personal experiences of loss) rather than a Pentecostal upbringing makes them no less spiritually resonant. But if there's darkness and pain in these grooves there's also plenty of lightness and joy, with a consistent, compassionate message of redemption through acceptance -- as Burhenn sings on "Ways of Looking": "It can be easy if you just let it." That simplicity informs both the album's unstudied songwriting and its deft, uncluttered arrangements, ranging from that song's few breezy guitar chords and sparse tambourine to the pounding piano and garage rock swagger of "Let the Record Go" to the New Orleans-style brass backing up "We Made a Mountain"'s bluesy gospel and the strings bringing a perfect touch of gloss to "LA Rain"'s charming pop.