There’s a lyrical tradition that seems to stem from popular songs titled “Omaha.” It’s a tradition that often involves the personification of the flyover city as a dependable friend or even a former lover waiting to be rediscovered for its less-exciting comforts. Waylon Jennings defects to San Francisco in his narrative but admits he “never really left it all” when crooning about Omaha. The Everly Brothers find D.C. and L.A. uninspiring compared to an Omaha that comprises “everything that [they] wanted.” And the Counting Crows are “coming home” to “roll a new love over.”
While Laura Burhenn’s “Omaha” perhaps involuntarily participates in this same ceremony on her latest Saddle Creek release Lovers Know, the Mynabirds singer-songwriter breaks one major trope: Her melancholy rendition makes no assumptions that the community she left two years ago would welcome her back if she wanted to return.
“That song was the hardest song for me to write and I almost didn’t even want to put it on the record because it’s so personal,” Burhenn, 35, says on the phone from her L.A. home. “Here I am, my heart is totally broken open and it’s like, ‘Here you go guys!'”
The D.C. native who moved to Nebraska in the late naughts says she wrote most of “Omaha” upon returning to the city after a grueling world tour with The Postal Service in 2013. At the time, Burhenn says she was having difficulty reconciling her life’s purpose of traveling as a touring musician with sustaining a relationship with her community.
“I feel like this is what the universe always does to you,” she explains, describing the budding disconnect she began to experience with Omaha. “You’re riding this wave of optimism and power and everything is amazing and perfect…and all of a sudden you just get crushed.”
Windows down, music loud, Burhenn says she took off in her car as a sort of therapeutic response to her existential pains, prompting a two-year odyssey that she would eventually package as Lovers Know.
“This record is probably my midlife crisis,” she says with a laugh. “Instead of buying a sports car, I took my dog and went camping all over the U.S.”
Burhenn’s journey, she says, reacquainted her with ’90s shoegaze and R&B, both of which stylistically pervade what she describes as her most emotionally unguarded material to date. And then there’s “Omaha,” which sonically sticks out like a logo-clad Woodmen Tower.
The minimalistic ballad, relying heavily on a tear-inducing piano lick and a sentimental ambiance, confronts the city, asking, “Will you still call me darling?” and “Will I still be your girl?” But “Omaha” is more than just an introspective look into Burhenn’s fear of letting down her former community: It’s also a love letter, a runaway note, a spiritual confession, a eulogy, an ode, and even a brochure. And ultimately, the song is a clue to unlocking its hosting album’s mysterious title:
“Lovers know that sometimes real intimacy can be beautiful and wonderful, but it can also be heartbreaking and treacherous,” says the artist who will appear at Slowdown on Sept. 17.
”But even as dark as it gets, you still have this seed of hope.”
Details for the performance:
THE MYNABIRDS with Bad Bad Hats and High Up
Thursday, Sept. 17 at 9 p.m.
Slowdown, 729 N 14th St.
Tickets $10 each, available at www.theslowdown.com