Mynah birds in nature are renowned as tricksters, able to imitate the sounds of other birds, even the human voice and machinery. Hard to say whether DC-via-Los Angeles (by way of Omaha) singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn had ornithology in mind when she named her band, but its three albums to date provide some clues of Mynabirds’ versatility and adaptability, not to mention Burhenn’s incredible singing voice.
After several years in DC power pop outfit Georgie James, Burhenn switched gears, unveiling herself on the Mynabirds’ debut, What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood, as a southern country-soul crooner with indie- rock credentials. Backed by a talented and versatile band, the album positioned Burhenn as something of an indie-era updating of Dusty in Memphis — accomplished, studio- minded, influenced by gospel, classic soul and the ’70s work of Laurel Canyon songwriters. From the cover art of a scene in a church to the organic piano and backing vocals, Burhenn and producer Richard Swift create an environment that puts her voice in front of without simply mimicking past glories. “Numbers Don’t Lie” is deeply soulful. Like a ’70s pop soul platter, What We Lose is concise: ten songs in 37 minutes.
The followup, Generals, is markedly different, driven by Burhenn’s anger over politics and urgency for social engagement, calling listeners into the streets in rage. Beyond the shift in subject matter, Generals is markedly more aggressive in its musical tones, driven by louder guitars and dance music rhythms. Even the love songs, like the riveting “Disarm,” start with chattering rhythms and militaristic imagery.
Generals lent itself to remixing, and a number of tracks were redone as a 12″ dance EP. Results, unsurprisingly, are mixed. “Disarm” fares well in the relatively unobtrusive remix by Dimitry Mak & Kapla, but the title track remixed by Richard Swift is fluttery and unmemorable.
Lovers Know attempts to strike a middle ground between What We Lose and Generals, and is not always successful. It’s neither a radical departure from Generals, nor outright repetition. The beats are still dancey and the guitars loud; the orientation is personal rather than political. But the sense of commitment is similar. In “Wildfire” and “All My Heart,” Burhenn stakes her position unequivocally — love and passion are hard, but when she’s in, she’s committed. The new material illustrates clearly that Burhenn’s approach to relationships and politics is identical: be clear about your ideals, pick a side and stick to your decisions. “Omaha” is a wistful ballad about one of her adopted hometowns, where her record label (Bright Eyes’ Saddle Creek) is based. Lovers Know is a longer record than the first two Mynabirds albums, which may not be a good thing, as their focus helped magnify their impact.