Aisha Burns: Life In The Midwater
Life in the Midwater suggests that the Austin band Balmorhea has been underutilizing Aisha Burns in primarily featuring her violin playing and giving less play to her vocalizing (she's also a member of the folk-rock outfit Alex Dupree and the Trapdoor Band). That imbalance is addressed dramatically on her nine-song solo debut by having her distinctive and powerful voice presented as the main element on the thirty-two-minute outing. The recording argues convincingly for her abilities as a singer-songwriter, too. Travis Chapman, Kendall Clark, and Alex Dupree contribute guitar, acoustic bass, and “ambient twinklings” to the recording, but the songs are primarily solo affairs with Burns handling vocal, guitar, violin, and viola duties.
Musically, the material might be described as stripped-down, vocal-based folk songs, with the strings occasionally giving them a chamber-like elegance. Lyrically, the songs concern themselves with relationships, life stages and challenges—the typical kind of issues someone in the early stages of adulthood wrestles with. The listener is often struck by the degree to which Burns wears her heart on her sleeve and comes away affected by the vulnerability conveyed in her emotional songs.
Perhaps the most striking of the songs, both melodically and vocally, is the opener “Sold,” which finds Burns trilling like a joyful songbird and handling the dramatic changes in pitch masterfully; the song's less than three minutes long yet so entrancing you'll be held spellbound. Much the same could be said for “Shelly,” whose open-hearted emotional expression (“It's time to call it out / It's time to lay it down”) is nicely complemented by guitar finger-picking and viola playing. Burns wisely exploits contrasts in dynamics and style, too: in keeping with its title, “Requiem” unfolds as a stirring vocal drone that Burns backs with a plodding drum pattern, while blues flavour seeps into the haunting “Destroyer.”
Caveats? A few, but they're minor: an even greater helping of Burns's string playing would have been welcome (such as is heard during the lovely strings episode in “Requiem”), and at thirty-two minutes, Life in the Midwater is more EP or mini-album than full-length. Such deficiencies hardly negate the many pleasures the recording provides, however, and there's still enough material included to present a full and memorable portrait of Burns the solo artist.