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Anais Mitchell - Hadestown

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 3 / 4 / 2010



Anais Mitchell - Hadestown
Label: Righteous Babe
Format: CD

intro

Remarkable and ambitous third album from American-singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, which taking its inspiration from Greek legend, sets new standards in music


Before getting on with the matter at hand, reviewing Anais Mitchell’s third album, let me first issue a quick note of reassurance to anyone who has read the words a ‘folk opera’ and has now stated to break out into a cold sweat. Honest, you have nothing to fear. This album is charming, delicate, literate, modest, pretty and tuneful. It’s also a huge, huge step up from her earlier work. ‘Hadestown’ began life as a stage show, performed by Mitchell and a cast of local actors and musicians. Her long-term collaborator Michael Chorney added string arrangements, bringing consistency to a remarkably diverse range of styles. The songs have since become the stand-out parts of her live show, performed solo. And now, with a new ‘cast’ of singers - Greg Brown, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Ani DiFranco and Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem) - each taking on one of the character's songs, it is an album. Although still labelled an ‘Opera’, it is more accurately a soundtrack. The themes of the show survive (sorrow, struggle and tragedy in a ‘post apocalyptic’ depression-era America), but the storyline is not really needed (it’s based on the Orpheus myth, and this is enough to give the music an eerie, otherworldly edge). Having said that the storyline is not needed to enjoy this album, I should say that there is a clear and constant flow from one song to the next – taken individually the songs are lovely, but together they count for more than the sum of their parts. Mitchell has always been a gifted songwriter, capable of weaving dense themes and raw emotions together into deceptively simple folk songs (take ‘1984’, from her second album, which used the growth of the surveillance state in George W Bush’s America as the launch pad for an examination of the difficult balance between love, loyalty and personal security). But, here, she takes her own gifts and sprinkles gold dust all over them. Chorney’s arrangements are always evocative and often flatly beautiful. The music roams freely over the complete terrain of American song - country gospel, ragtime, blues, and early jazz, rock, swing, folk, indie and even avant-garde. At no point is it ever inaccessible, at no point does the complexity of the project ever overwhelm the tunes. Justin Vernon takes on the key part of Orpheus – and as his character is the heart of the tragedy – he is given the album’s most beautiful and haunting melodies. Through the album’s opening track, ‘Wedding Song’, to the heartbreaking ‘Wait For Me’ and the tragic ‘Doubt Comes In’, at which point Orpheus realises he has lost his love for good, Vernon’s vocal performance is the virtuoso match for anything on his classic ‘For Emma, Forever Go’. Elsewhere, Greg Brown’s deep bass provides a perfect counterpoint to everyone else, and his cynical tone sets up the despair upon which the tragedy unfolds. If there is one small disappointment, it is that there are occasions when Ani DiFranco’s folk-raps don’t quite match the performances that Anais Mitchell gave to these songs on her recent solo tour. And yet, DiFranco’s duet with Brown is simply astonishing – as Hades and Persephone debate the merits of music in song, ultimately agreeing that it is worth giving up all they have for. Ultimately, we are left with a remarkable album – one that honours the age-old legend on which it is based, and yet one that sounds wholly relevant in a contemporary setting. It is beautifully played, outstanding sung. It is fabulously ambitious, and yet entirely humble. Considering those involved, it would have been a surprise if this project hadn’t worked. But, ‘Hadestown’ doesn’t just meet expectations. It sets new standards. I’ve never heard another album even remotely like this one. I’ve heard very few that can claim to be as good.



Track Listing:-
1 Wedding Song
2 Epic Part One
3 Way Down Hadestown
4 Songbird Intro
5 Hey, Little Songbird
6 Gone, I'm Gone
7 When The Chips Are Down
8 Wait For Me
9 Why We Build The Wall
10 Our Lady Of The Underground
11 Flowers - Eurydice's Song
12 Nothing Changes
13 If It's True
14 Papers - Hades Finds Out
15 How Long?
16 Epic Part Two
17 Lover's Desire
18 His Kiss, The Riot
19 Doubt Comes In
20 I Raise My Cup To Him


Band Links:-
http://anaismitchell.com/
https://www.facebook.com/AnaisMitchellMusic
https://twitter.com/anaismitchell
https://www.youtube.com/user/anaismitchell


Label Links:-
http://www.righteousbabe.com/


Have a Listen:-






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interviews


Interview (2009)
Anais Mitchell - Interview
At a gig in Newcastle on their recent European tour, Jonjo McNeill speaks to singer Yuke Chikudate and guitarist James Hanna from New York shoegazers Asobi Seksu about touring, songwriting and their just released third alabum, 'Hush'
Interview (2009)

live reviews


Union Chapel, London, 25/1/2011
Anais Mitchell - Union Chapel, London, 25/1/2011
Ben Howarth at the Union Chapel in London watches American singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell, with an extensive set of guest musicians including both Thea Gilmore and Jackie Leven, reenact her concept album, 'Hadestown', to standing ovation and hypnotic effect
12 Bar Club, London, 24/5/2010
Luminaire, London, 25/1/2010
Luminaire, London, 21/1/2009


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