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Album Review: What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood by The Mynabirds
Great, Based on 6 Critics
PopMatters - 90 Based on rating 9/10
The Mynabirds is the nom de plume appended to, for most intents and purposes, the freshly varnished creative outlet of Laura Burhenn, a courageous, multi-talented singer/songwriter currently residing in Portland, Oregon. Following the dissolution of her group Georgie James, a pleasant indie pop outfit hailing from DC, Burhenn relocated clear across the country, hooked up with maverick musical chameleon Richard Swift, and recorded her debut album, What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood, a release that should find an encouraging reception under the hospitable wing of Nebraska-based Saddle Creek Records. Little in the scarce, affable output of her former project could have prepared us for the depths plunged here: a soul-purging, powerful statement of survival and self-assertion that stands head and shoulders above the current crop of navel-gazers populating today’s underground music scene.
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.
Laura Burhenn, the singer and songwriter of the Mynabirds, was previously one half of the Washington, D.C. indie duo Georgie James. That's not terribly indicative of what her new band sounds like, however. Georgie James' polite, unmemorable brand of aughts-era indie pop has very little to do with the full-blown country and soul style of the Mynabirds' debut.
There's been a bit of a retro vibe in the air recently, with acts like Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings and She & Him unselfconsciously evoking bygone eras and turning in the best records of their careers in the process. It is now the turn of The Mynabirds, where Laura Burhenn (ex of Washington DC duo Georgie James) comes over all soulful Sixties chanteuse, the results constituting a rich and focused debut album. Comparisons have been drawn with the likes of Feist, latter-day Cat Power and Jenny Lewis, and it pretty much goes without saying that if you like any of those singers’ work you’re in for a treat with What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood.
Take her home, country road When Laura Burhenn sang with D.C. effort Georgie James, the soulful singer could not keep up with the pop rock pace of her musical partner, Q and Not U’s John Davis. But now that she has fled the city for the hills of Oregon, her voice has finally found its place. Throughout her new band, the Mynabirds’, soul-country debut, her voice tends to hover above simple, mid-tempo numbers, though the best moments highlight its new-found nuances.
When Washington, DC duo Georgie James called it quits in 2008, Laura Burhenn wasted no time in moving on and moving forward. The Mynabirds, named after Neil Young and Rick James' early Motown band, benefits greatly from her alluring songwriting and singular vocals. With a smoky voice reminiscent of Dusty Springfield, Burhenn wrings all emotions out of these tracks with seeming effortlessness, from the horn-accented "What We Gained in the Fire," through Motown with Phil Spector orchestration-sounding "Numbers Don't Lie," and the deeply soulful "Give It Time." Songs are accented and adorned with horns and strings here and there, lending a pleasantly anachronistic feel to the tracks, but Burhenn's vocals are always the draw.