The Upshot: If the brief, seven-song release signals a new direction it looks to be a fertile, productive one for both musicians.
BY JENNIFER KELLY
One of the first things you notice about Mirah’s songs is that they’re full of space, whether they are quiet and pristine or bang-on-a-big-drum raucous or even, circa 2014’s Changing Light, in full-on dance diva mode. Elliptical dots stand between lyrical phrases. Instruments are widely spaced and floodlit. The drums have to be kept on a short-leash, so as not to overwhelm her precise architectural structures. So when with Sundial, the artist collaborates with string arranger/composer Jherek Bischoff to fill in some of the spaces, there seems a risk of over-embellishment, the musical equivalent of TBC colorization that turns classic B&W lurid with too bright tints and hues. And yet, these concerns are unwarranted, because Bischoff here is as sharply edited as Mirah’s melodies, his swoops and sweeps and twitches of violin and viola and cello fluid but contained. Far from rounding off the edges or blurring the finer points, the addition of chamber strings italicizes these songs’ strengths. Short version it works.
Sundial reimagines six older songs and adds a seventh (the title cut) within this altered frame of reference. The songs span Mirah’s career with two recent ones from Changing Light (where Bischoff also added strings), “Little Cup” from the Thao and Mirah album, “The Light” from Cmon Miracle, “The World Is Failing” from (a)spera and “Cold Cold Water” from all the way back to Advisory Committee. This latter song is so iconically Mirah’s that it seems the unwise to fuss with, but surprisingly, it becomes the disc’s clear highlight. It begins with Mirah’s soft voice, hemmed in by pizzicato plucks, and swells in the chorus to headlong, careening drama. The cascades of string sounds, the vibrating sustained tones, the urgent rhythmic bowing all support the song’s fundamental tension, rather than relieving it, adding to the impact without overweighting it. The added arrangements have the unexpected effect of making the song wilder, rather than better behaved, and as truly itself as the original, though obviously, another version of itself.
“Oxen Hope” is another stunner, with its deep, almost subliminal throbs of cello under Mirah’s untrammeled, improvisatory vocal flights. The string arrangements ground her without tying her to earth. She seems somehow freer in flight now that there’s solid earth under her.
The disc is a short one, just a taste really. If it’s a one-off, it’s an interesting tangent, but if it signals a new direction, as seems more likely, it looks to be a fertile, productive one for both Mirah and Bischoff.
DOWNLOAD: “Cold Cold Water” “Oxen Hope”