It's a neat trick, putting age-old traditional elements through the prism of the thoroughly modern. If it's done right, you get a visceral experience that pulls you right in, requiring no effort to absorb some of the ancient art forms you might have squirmed through in history class. In the case of the Mimi Burns Band's I Know You're Out There, it's a ride that might just send you on dual errands: to the record store as well as the library.
Her third release since 1999, I Know You're Out There finds Burns in fine form with a five-piece band that provides everything from celestial massed vocal harmonies to instruments you might normally only experience in the context of public television programs or movies about large sinking ships. The essence of the Celtic sound, produced here in vivid fashion, has been simultaneously commoditized and marginalized in mainstream America, becoming an acceptable exotic sonic spice to add whenever convenient. Burns and her crew manage to make these sounds and styles coexist with driving folk and pop. Strident guitars share space with evocative fiddles, bringing to mind rocky coastlines where the music pushes and pulls like the tides. The title track is a stirring tune replete with didgeridoo, while the opening track, "Netherworld," kicks off with some stirring, stately instrumentation before giving way to a tune that really catches fire when Burns' ardent vocals kick in. Upping the energy level even more, the exuberant chorus features a host of vocal harmonies that enrich the entire album.
The aching opening of "Wooden Door" leads to an understated yet powerful Peter Gabriel-esque duet, featuring the vocals of Burns and Mark Turney. It's a delicate highlight that helps maintain the mood and pace of the disc. A number of tunes mid-record, including the pleasant acoustic-driven "Come Through" and waltzing "When the Wind Blows," ease into comfortable singer-songwriter territory without ever losing momentum or sounding contrived. The lead vocal on "The Haunted" mirrors the track's title, but soon enough the smoke is cleared by a rage of instruments until a bluesy shuffle pulls things back to earth. It's a roiling tune that demands your ear. The traditional-sounding "Come and Dance" puts you in the midst of a festive celebration that nonetheless harbors a slightly stern brow – ecstatic and careworn at the same time.
I Know You're Out There ends with the lilting, dynamic "Going Home," set in the confines of a nursing home, wherein a weary resident pines for release. The energy level waxes and wanes, giving the song a bittersweet pulse. It's a stirring conclusion, full of the Celtic fiddles and folk-rock vibe that permeates the whole of the album, which is available at CDbaby, iTunes, Rhapsody and several storefront locations. Go to www.mimiburns.com for more information.
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