Rhythm & Views


I showed up at the second night of the K Records Extravaganza at Brownies in New York City just to see Calvin Johnson, but the real star of the show that night was Mirah, full name Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn. When you add her middle and last name (and you have to add the middle name; it means "good day" in Hebrew) she sounds much more like what she is--one of the best new female singer-songwriters to surface from the Northwest--and less like what I was expecting before I saw her--an obnoxious, belting, I-am-woman-hear-me-roar femme fetal. That kind of thing seems to coincide with female solo acts on indie labels. I have no patience for that kind of cliché.

But Mirah walked on stage with an acoustic guitar and proceeded to play stripped down versions of her folk-pop songs of love and loss that rose above and beyond stupid gender issues. Advisory Committee, Mirah's third album, recorded with Phil Elvrum of the Microphones, of which Mirah is also a member, combines her powerfully sexy yet girlish voice with guitars, organs, a wide array of percussion and all kinds of other things that make each song distinct. She can go from a simple acoustic guitar arpeggio and floaty, high-in-the-mountain ooohs to dance beats and electronic guitars and not skip a beat.

Mirah's musical career began as the frontwoman for an Olympia, Wash., jazz band, the Hot Set, who played weddings and bar mitzvahs. There is an evocative religious tone to some of her songs: On "Light the Match," the members of the Hot Set play a wailing accordion and fiddle Old World style in the background. "Monument" is about as pure of a political and spiritual folk song as one can get: "It's a long long way 'til the promised land, so try where you are do what you can," Mirah sings while picking the guitar. But, as I learned the hard way, assumptions about Mirah (or anything, for that matter) are bound to be shattered. After "Monument" she ends the album with some heavy electronic dance beats, as a reminder that she's more than just a girl with a guitar. "Cold Cold Water," the first track on the album, sounds like something out of a musical, what with the timpani and organ.

Mirah's fearlessly confident lyrics are always the driving force of her songs--when she sings over a synth beat "Now you know how rough it is to let me go, so let me recommend that you think twice (I always give the best advice)" in "Recommendation"--you know she's a force not to be reckoned with. The songs on Advisory Committee often have some kind of struggle or death, with Mirah as a warrior figure, starting fires or shooting arrows, but Mirah never forgets what pop is really all about: simple love songs. "I just want to sing I love you baby," she cries breathlessly on "The Garden," while the drum beat crunches behind her, "Look what you've done to me, oh! oh!" She may delve into klezmer styles and sing folk songs on occasion, but this is a K records release--it's still just indie rock, and it manages to maintain plenty of sincerity.

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