Laura Burhenn of The Mynabirds performs at Songbyrd Music House on Dec. 14, 2016.
Laura Burhenn came home to DC for the holidays.
She even brought with her a Christmas song in her visit to Songbyrd Music House on Wednesday. Of course, despite a jingly medley, that song turns out to have some bite as Laura tackles climate change, dishonest politicians, and a search for truth in “All I Want Is Truth (for Christmas),” a holiday offering from her project The Mynabirds released by Saddle Creek in 2012.
While Laura may have returned to DC from Los Angeles with political indictments and sharper barbs than the holiday mistletoe, she did so to a very warm reception in the intimacy of a pleasantly crowded Songbyrd stage, where she ended a brief solo tour where she performed as only Laura and not The Mynabirds.
The solo show unfolded as an electronic keyboard experience, and to the surprise of no one, Laura is just as rich and full of expression alone as with a band. Her penchant for poppy folk songs translates very well into a one-woman show, where she can pour herself into the music unencumbered by the presence of other musicians. She is simultaneously extravagant and pithy — fond of musical flourishes and yet plain-spoken about her feelings, lately expressed in a slightly Buddhist wrapping.
Her solo tour followed the recording of several songs under her own name rather than The Mynabirds, and she presented those songs to her enthusiastic audience Wednesday. She played “Wild Hearts,” a song she recently recorded in Nashville recently but never previously played in concert. And she presented her recent single “Apples & Oranges” along with its B-Side “Good Medicine,” which she says “is about no matter how tired or beat down you are, you have to keep singing your song.”
“Good Medicine” finds Laura in a reflective mood, as with much of her current mood, and she sings low and sweet. At turns sultry, defiant, and plaintive, her lush voice her primary strength, and she can use it to great effect in a quiet song like “Good Medicine” or a booming song like “Generals,” the title track to the second studio album by The Mynabirds.
“Generals” comes early in Wednesday night’s set, and she unwraps it at an assured pace, introducing the audience to the song’s call and response portion where women and then men declare themselves allies of love alongside their intent to fix our problems. Our problems of course in this case refer to social injustices, and “Generals” was inspired by Laura’s time in DC protesting the Iraq war.
Of course, you can take the woman out of the protest, but you cannot take the protest out of the woman, as Laura dedicates “Buffalo Flower,” also from the album Generals to the water protectors at Standing Rock. Laura gives her full voice to the song, simultaneously bluesy, folky, and smoldering. It strikes an appropriate note, one that she wears well, of sweet sadness but also of defiance and an appreciation for survivors.
Here’s Laura’s full setlist:
All My Heart
Give It Time
Glory Box (Portishead cover)
Numbers Don’t Lie
What We Gained in the Fire
All I Want Is Truth (for Christmas)
Apples & Oranges
Laura doesn’t have any more performances scheduled, either solo as herself or under the banner of The Mynabirds, but she certainly seems like she has been consistently at work on new music lately. Expect to hear more of her in 2017! When you do, seek out a live show and lose yourself in that big, versatile voice of hers.
Here are some more pictures of Laura Burhenn performing at Songbyrd Music House on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2016.