Editors' pick

Thao & Mirah


Editorial Review

Album review: "Thao & Mirah"

Singer-songwriters Thao Nguyen and Mirah Zeitlyn’s “Thao & Mirah’’ takes several approaches to collaboration: duets, of course, but also solos and trios. Although she’s not billed alongside the main performers, co-producer Merrill Garbus (a.k.a. Tune-Yards) plays a prominent role on songs such as “Eleven.’’ That exuberant track, which opens the album, owes more to Garbus’s jumpy art-rock than to either Thao’s neo-Americana or Mirah’s folk-pop.

Thao, a Northern Virginia native who now lives on the West Coast, seems more attuned to Garbus’s approach. Several of her contributions, notably “Folks,’’ mesh well with the co-producer’s honking horns, fidgety beats and multi-tracked wordless vocalese. Mirah sticks closer to her usual style, although she occasionally lets Garbus take over, as during “Rubies and Rocks’’ and the coda to “Little Cup,’’ both of which draw on jazzy Afropop.

While Mirah goes it basically alone for three tunes, she joins in the fun on such soul-inspired numbers as “How Dare You,’’ whose call-and-response vocals highlight the contrast between Thao’s alto and Mirah’s soprano.

But the album never really tops the opening track: “I know about the human heart / I have been watching yours,’’ Thao sings on “Eleven,” a tribute to the coupled life that’s musically a threesome.

— Mark Jenkins, June 10, 2011