Summer Albums, Part 1

The Mynabirds “What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood” (Saddle Creek).

The Mynabirds are singer/songwriter Laura Burhenn, once half of the D.C. pop duo Georgie James, but this luscious slice of blue-eyed soul pop sounds nothing like her old group. It builds on, but does not mimic, the ’60s sounds of Dusty Springfield, Jackie DeShannon and Carole King and is one of the summer’s delights, a catchy, sometimes dark, often joyous 30 minutes. Burhenn has a warm, inviting voice although nothing the power of a Springfield or even King. But the music by producer Richard Swift, who also plays on the disc, perfectly frames her talents. Check out the smoldering“Give It Time.” There are enough modern touches, on songs like the percussive “Let the Record Go” and “Wash It Out.” There’s a nice smattering of smoldering ballads, notably “LA Rain; a bit of alt twang on “Good Heart; some girl group fun on “We Made a Mountain,” and a terrifically catchy pop single,“The Numbers Don’t Lie,” one of the summer’s road trip pleasures.

The Mynabirds – Numbers Don’t Lie from Saddle Creek on Vimeo.

It was the single that brought me to this album, but it’s the evocative rest of the disc that brings me back time and again thanks to the tasteful, restrained production, intriguing lyrics and slow-burning melodies.

Laura Marling “I Speak Because I Can” (Astralwerks)

Laura Marling’s title suggests she feels more secure in her abilities following her debut, “Alas I Cannot Swim” at 18, two years ago. The disc makes good on that implicit promise, establishing her in a long line of Britiish folkies going back to Sandy Denny and Nick Drake and moving forward through Kate Rusby and Beth Orton. This is an often dark, mature and wise record from the the opening “Devil’s Spoke” through “Rambling Man” and on to guitar strumming propulsion of “Nature of Dust,” the closer.

The subjects are familiar folk rock concerns, nothing less than love, sex, sorrow, and the eternal. The melancholy “Made by Maid” sounds like it could have come off Drake’s “Pink Moon,” complete with hushed, spoken vocals and gentle guitar. But elsewhere she uses the folk foundation to venture into more lapel-grabbing ground. The bluesy affirmation of “Devil’s Spoke” is propelled by a furiously strummed guitar. “Let it always be known that I was who I am,’ she sings on “Rambling Man,” another relatively raucous folk rocker. Just as quickly, she is whispering about death in “Blackberry Stone.” The musical swings are deftly done, the bursts of banjo, mandolin and backing vocals from Mumford & Sons.

This is a record to cozy up to again and again, its pleasures revealed with repeated listenings, especially to Marling’s lyrics, which can be lost on shallow listenings as you call in love with her beguiling voice. “It’s hard to accept yourself as someone you don’t desire/ as someone you don’t want to be,” she writes in “Rambling Man.” On “Alpha Shallows” she sings of a man who will “work my heart till its raw.” On the title track, she looks at life from the perspective of an ignored wife. “I cooked the meals and he got the life,” she writes.
The disc manages the rare feat of delivering a thoughtful, emotional wallop. Just give it time.

Tift Merritt “See You on the Moon” (Fantasy).

Tift Merritt’s latest meditation opens with “Mixtape,” a catchy pop song driven by hand claps and framed by strings about making a mixtape for a potential lover, the narrator seeing herself “like a rare B-side.” It’s utterly captivating and it’s also utterly unlike anything else on the album.
Few artists have made an many stylistic turns in as few albums at Merritt, who debuted as an alt country chanteuse on “Bramble Rose,” then moved into mainstream blue-eyed rock and soul on the Grammy-nominated “Tambourine” before going roots like on the quiet “Another Country.” “See You on the Moon” is an often revelatory album that walks the line between the best of her last two efforts.

“Engine to Turn” and the Byrdsy “Six More Days of Rain” reach the edge of the catchiness found on “Tambourine.” “Never Talk About It,” guided by a strummed acoustic guitar, and “All the Reasons We Don’t Have to Fight,” are spare, elegant, and quietly beautiful. Merritt’s voice has grown quieter, more emotionally fragile over time and the production frames that with quiet simplicity in most cases. If “Tambourine” grabbed you and demanded attention, “Moon” sits back and beckons.

A few years ago, she fronted a band for an irresistible show at The Attucks Theatre as part of the Discovery series. While there were quiet moments, it was a rock show through and through. Merritt is on a different journey now, not as immediate, but equally rewarding.

Daphne Willis “What to Say” (Vanguard)

On the opening cut of this album, “Everybody Else,”a perfect choice for a summer in the car, Daphne Willis comes across as the female progeny of Dave Matthews, early Rickie Lee Jones and Jack Johnson with a groove-y, horn-fueled piece of pop. She doesn’t let down for the rest of this disc’s delightful dozen cuts. “Bluff” should be a summer single. “Yellow Dress” has that funky, percussive Johnson feel and is as sunny as it sounds. “All I Know” and it’s loping horn-driven chorus has a Memphis feel, even if Willis is a Chicago native.
What holds court throughout her jaunts through various acoustic pop styles, horns occasionally blaring, is Willis’s warm, easy-to-love voice and smart lyrics. “Yellow dress you leave me a mess,” she writes. “Teasing the wind, you’re there then you left. And I guess, you know by now, that I really adore you. Your eccentric mannerisms make me smile. Would it fancy you to share some thoughts for a while?”

Just put this on and listen. “What to Say” is about as tasteful and catchy folk pop record as you’ll find this summer. It’s also an example why good independent music stores (and book stores) still matter. I bought the disc because Barry Friedman at Birdland Records thrust it into my hand as I was checking out and said I needed to have it. He was right.

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