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Waiting For Mirah's C'mon Miracle

With Címon Miracle (K), her fourth full-length album full of deeply personal, raw, honest songs, set for a May 4th release, singer/songwriter Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn admits to the mild queasiness that comes from baring one's most closely cherished emotions to a horde of strangers. "It feels definitely like I'm exposing parts of myself that are private," she said, in a phone interview the other day, taking a break from boiling maple syrup at her mother's childhood farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania. "It can feel a little raw. But I do continue to do it, because it's worth it. I think that people expect it, too. I know that I really enjoy other artists' work when they're exposing parts of themselves in an honest way. I feel like it's worth it for me."

Mirah's deeply personal lyrics — about love, betrayal, distance and the passage of time — evoke mood and story by implication, and often feel almost childlike in their simplicity. For example, "Nobody Has to Stay," which opens the album, is as lucid and unadorned as verse can be, with such lines as "While you hurt with all that pain/ Stars will kiss your pretty face/ Come away with me today/ Everything should be OK/ Feel your pockets while you may/ With some to eat and some to save/ Nobody has to stay."

That willingness to share extends to the most fundamental of personal issues, Mirah's sexuality, which she freely talks about both in her interviews and her music. "I don't think ... it's not like it's not anybody's business," she explains. "If I'm so immodest to not be private about anything about my life in order to make the music that I make, then there's no reason to have something that's pretty basic and important about my life, my sexuality, be swept under the table."

Mirah, who is openly gay, writes songs that are often frankly sexual. In "We're Both So Sorry," she sings, "You always seem to lose the spark/ When I was only half undressed.Ē Yet her work transcends gender politics with lyrics that are both precisely specific and universally applicable. "Don't Die in Me" with its samba-rhythmed tale of a failing relationship, for instance, could be about nearly any couple working through betrayal, gay or straight, when Mirah sings, "If you want something back/ All the things that got cracked/ When I felt you lied to me/ And all the million mistakes and the kicks in the face/ I don't want you to die in me."

C'mon Miracle's tracks run the gamut from indie-rock-leaning stomps ("The Light," "Look Up!"), to Latin-flavored shuffles ("The Dogs of B.A.," "Don't Die in Me"), to quirky ballads that pit Mirah's soft-focus soprano against the barest guitar and percussion.

The new album was recorded at Olympia, Washington's Dub Narcotic Studio with longtime collaborator Phil Elvrum of The Microphones and Mt. Eerie, and in Buenos Aires with engineer and percussionist Bryce Panic (one-time drummer of Old Time Relijun). "Phil has golden ears...and a really good sense for wringing sounds out of nowhere and getting them onto tape in a way that no one else can," she says. In the studio, Mirah was joined by the Black Cat Orchestra's cellist Lori Goldston, with whom she had worked on To Always Stretch the Open Arm, an album of mostly covers, released earlier this month by YoYo Records.

The collaborative DIY culture of Olympia and K Records also had a big impact on C'mon Miracle, Mirah recalls. "At Dub Narcotic, on all of the recordings that I've been involved with there, it tends to be pretty free-flowing in terms of, 'Hey, let's get a bunch of people together to clap.' And you'll run around the building finding people who can clap."

She adds, "Also, the downtown of Olympia is pretty small, so if you ever need to round up friends or people to sing or play on the songs, you can stick your head out the window and holler and you'll have a chorus."

Mirah's wintertime sojourn in Buenos Aires and Brazil lends several tracks — "Dogs of B.A." and "Don't Die in Me" — a Latin feel. Others are stripped down and minimal, and a few, including the "The Light" and "Jerusalem," rock eccentrically and convincingly. "Jerusalem," originally written for a Hannukah compilation but rejected as too political, is particularly strong, drawing on Mirah's Jewish upbringing and Internet research to present a nuanced, hard-edged vision of violence and power and the need for peace.

Mirah, who wrote her first song at age 4, has been singing and performing since she was 18. Her first album, 2000's You Think It's Like This, But It's Really Like This (K) established her as one of the nascent decade's most exciting new singer/songwriters. She followed with the critically acclaimed Advisory Committee (K) a year later, and Cold, Cold Water (K) in 2002; she collaborated with Ginger Brooks Takahashi in 2003 on Songs From the Black Mountain Project (K). She has also contributed to albums by The Microphones, Dennis Driscoll, The Blow and Jason Anderson.

Look for a more extensive conversation in "Datastream" with Mirah — talking about her background, her songs, her travels and her formative experiences in Olympia, Washington — in a few weeks. — Jennifer Kelly [Monday, March 29, 2004]

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