Burhenn, one half of the late DC band Georgie James, is an insanely gifted singer/songwriter. Upon the break-up of her former band and some personal losses, Burhenn started the song cycle that would eventually become The Mynabirds' debut. The press release doesn't elaborate about what these losses were, but obviously they seem to be the catalyst to this great creation. Always at the forefront is Burhenn's amazing voice, which is by turns dusky, soulful and highly palatable. It is hard to pinpoint exactly who she sounds like, but she appears to be channeling classic Dusty Springfield and yet I hear a little bit of the raspy beauty of Maria McKee and even Fiona Apple in the mix as well.
From the first note in the album's plaintive-turned-rousing opener ("What We Gained In The Fire") the tone is set: when that glorious voice starts its confessional, the listener is immediately pulled in. Gospel-tinged and reflective, the album's ten tracks have an overall sense of loss—hence the title—but also, refreshingly, of self-discovery. The fantastic one-two sonic punch of "Let The Record Go" seems hard to beat—especially its great chorus and drumming—but when the album's first single, the magnificent "Numbers Don't Lie" hooks into your brain, watch out. If it wanted to, this could easily become the anthem to the summer of 2010. An organ momentarily seems to be playing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" followed by the sound of footsteps, jangling piano keys and then Burhenn's laugh as the most irresistible melody, lyrics and chorus of recent memory introduce themselves. Heartache rarely sounded this good and you'll be singing along to "Numbers Don't Lie" in no time, then hitting the repeat button.
The album also showcases Burhenn's other great strengths: her skills as a songwriter and lyricist. "Another heart attack today/up on the 405/the sirens came/and they went away/they told me I'd be fine," she casually announces on "LA Rain," her voice dripping with emotion, before it reaches its spryly girl group sing-a-long chorus. It is a great achievement. In fact, all of the album's ten tracks work from a similar sense of structure: clever lyrics, memorable choruses and hummable melodies. The anguished wails in "Give It Time" and the glorious "Wash It Out" are real and heartfelt, the latter of which is also highly hooky. Lyrically I'm reminded of late goddess Kirsty MacColl, and not just because of their wit, but also Burhenn's great ability to be melancholic and cathartic at the same time.
Whoever broke Burhenn's heart has inspired some truly humorous lines and then some heartbreaking ones as well. "I lost my head in the avalanche/the world turned over when I least expect" she sings on "Ways Of Looking," followed by: "then all the sparrows and the coronets/they played their own version of Taps." Doo-wop sounding "We Made A Mountain" and "Right Place" are both simply gorgeous while the country-tinged Good Heart closes things out on a nicely dramatic note.
More than ably backed-up by co-producer Richard Swift (on backing vocals, synthesizers, guitars, bass, percussion and drums) the album also features Tom Hnatow on pedal steel guitar, plus the vocal talents of Orenda Fink and AJ Mogis, plus a full horn section, arranged by Nathaniel Walcott. Clocking in at a mere 32 minutes in length, it is easy to get addicted to the album as a whole. But above everything else is that voice, Burhenn's remarkably magnificent voice, that makes this album worth investigating. She truly puts her heart and soul into every note she sings.
What We Lose In The Fire We Gain In The Flood was released on CD, vinyl and digitally Tuesday, April 27th on Saddle Creek.