What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska.
The lineup: Laura Burhenn joined live by Johnny Kotchian (drums), Dan McCarthy (bass, vocals), Pearl Lovejoy Boyd (vocals), Ben Brodin (guitars, vocals) and Alex McManus (guitars, horns, vocals).
The background: After yesterday's Labrinth, here comes the second in an occasional series of new acts taking liberties with spelling. The Mynabirds are really just a vehicle for white-soul girl Laura Burhenn (formerly of Washington, DC indie obscurities Georgie James) to achieve her ambition to "make a record that sounds like Neil Young doing Motown". On her album What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood, her backing band and producer Richard Swift do a pretty good job of realising that pipe dream. It's probably no coincidence that there was another R&B-ish American band, this one from the mid 60s, also called (but differently spelled as) the Mynah Birds, that included at various times in their lineup none other than Neil Young and original superfunk superfreak Rick James. They signed to Motown briefly and cut a couple of tracks that were never released and only surfaced on a box set in 2006, one of which, Go On and Cry, is Smokey Robinson-ishly ethereal and sweet, while the other, It's My Time, is a faster and looser take on original R&B.
Point is, Burhenn's Mynabirds aren't dissimilar to their 60s near namesakes. One of their tracks, Let the Record Go (which you can download free), has a Motown stomp and production-wise has an echoey girl-group quality – is this, you wonder, a cover of an obscure Martha Reeves and the Vandellas song? What We Lose in the Fire ... is full of such moments, and soon deja vu becomes the default setting. With its horn blasts (courtesy of Nate Walcott from Bright Eyes) and gospel fervour, you can imagine Dusty cutting We Made a Mountain in Memphis, while Numbers Don't Lie is almost so familiar you'd think it was a facsimile, with shades of Heartache Avenue, the Motown pastiche that became a big one-off hit for the Maisonettes in 1982.
Fortunately, like Donny and Marie before her, Burhenn's a little bit country, and a little bit rock'n'roll, and it's the extra grit provided by her forays into these areas, plus of course her marvellous rich voice, that keeps this away from novelty territory. There are slower, croakier numbers such as Right Place, there's a churchy one called What We Gained in the Fire that brings to mind (our mind anyway) Baptist preacher's daughter Dawn Kinnard, and there's even the obligatory Pale Blue Eyes soundalike, Ways of Looking, which instantly places Burhenn in a darker, druggier lineage than someone like Duffy.
The buzz: "A set of bold, assured songs so elegantly composed that many could pass for old standards" – Pitchfork.
The truth: Like Duffy's Rockferry collaboration with Bernard Butler, this is a studio affair concocted by Burhenn and producer Swift, but here there's grit in the gloss.
Most likely to: Fail her Spelling Bee.
Least likely to: Fall under the influence of alprazolam, diazepam, bupropion, citalopram, hydrocodone, digoxin, chlorpheniramine, methamphetamine and cocaine.
What to buy: The album What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood is released by Saddle Creek on 7 June.
File next to: Bobbie Gentry, Dusty Springfield, Duffy, Jenny Lewis.
LP / CD / MP3
LP / Deluxe LP / CD / MP3
LP / MP3
7" / MP3