I once bought an album purely on a whim after hearing just 30 seconds of the opening track. That band was Low and the album was Things We Lost in the Fire. The purchase felt like an exciting risk at the time, though when I got home and was able to listen to the album in full, the risk felt totally vindicated and now this CD occupies a special and unique place in my collection. So, when I received The Mynabird’s near namesake debut, What We Lose in the Fire, We Gain in the Flood there was a genuine flutter of excitement in the belly of this reviewer – a feeling not felt for some time. And perhaps the opening (semi) title track would have encouraged an impromptu purchase back in the day but sadly, the first play back of the full album on returning home would have yielded a feeling of mild disappointment.
The Mynabirds have got soul (and no, they’re not soldiers). We’re not talking fake, rubber soul like Duffy, we’re talking real, heavy soul, more along the lines of Aretha Franklin – the kind of music born in gospel choirs across the deep south of America at the turn of the last century. This is eminently classy and classic music, taking the best of the genre originators’ output and weaving it into a contemporary tribute that never feels like a parody or pastiche.
What We Lose in the Fire does many things right and to sparkling effect in some instances. Laura Burhenn (who pretty much is The Mynabirds) has an excellent voice, full of smoky depth and, when she finds her range to suit the music as best heard on ‘LA Rain’, the result is captivating. ‘Let the Record Go’ has an apt title as it feels like the only moment on the album where the music is allowed to open up, giving way to a surprising up-tempo chorus. Richard Swift’s production is so stripped down and sparse, you wonder if he’s doing anything at all; but like the best football referees who are seen but never heard, Swift keeps to the shadows of the church rafters, overseeing all but thankfully feeling no need to stamp too much authority over proceedings.
So where does this feeling of mild disappointment come from? Well, sadly, the simplistic, pared-down style does lead to more than one instance of blandness. ‘Wash it Out’ is pure B-side filler. ‘Right Place’ and ‘Good Heart’ feel thematically and lyrically wishy-washy and Burnham seems to misjudge her vocal range in the last minute of ‘Give it Time’, pushing for a more powerful delivery which absolutely does not suit her voice.
As a five track EP, this could have been excellent, but strength and consistency of songwriting holds the album back from the insta-recommendation it should and could have been. However, there’s no doubt that The Mynabirds possess everything required to write a classic album somewhere down the line and I wouldn’t bet against that happening sooner rather than later.