Welcome to the first of what I hope will be a regular feature, “Introducing…” As many of you know, I am kind of obsessed with music, and sharing the music I love with others, so this is one more way for me to make my joy more complete.
I’m starting with Anais Mitchell for one simple reason. She is playing a show at SPACE in Evanston this Friday night, and I would love for anyone and everyone to attend this show. Mostly because I think it will be incredible, but also because I don’t want to go alone, though I absolutely will if this post doesn’t convince you to lay down a mere $12 for a ticket.
The first time I heard Anais’ deceptively innocent rasp, I was driving through West Chester, PA with my brother. It was on a mix he had made for a road trip with his friend Max, and only a few lines into “Why We Build the Wall” I was hooked. Actually, now that I think about it, Greg Brown is the main singer on that song (it’s from Hadestown, her rock opera based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and features many wonderful artists like Brown, Justin Vernon, Ani DiFranco, and others) but that was my first experience with her music. And I knew I had to hear more.
So I got myself a copy of Hadestown, which was at the time her most recent album, and pretty much wore it out. Pretty soon I knew it right and left and every way to Sunday. The album’s highlights, for me, include: “Why We Build the Wall,” “Flowers (Eurydice’s Song),” “Wedding Song,” “I Raise My Cup to Him.”
It makes me so sad that I never got to see her Hadestown tour. She performs it as a full folk-opera, with a 22-person cast. (On tour Vernon’s part is often sung by none other than Peter Mulvey, my Favorite Ever.) Though it seems she still does it from time to time, so perhaps my chance may still come.
Last month she released her follow-up to Hadestown, Young Man in America. It is, in my humble opinion, a masterpiece. Pitchfork gave it a 7.8, if you care about such things, and praised her storytelling abilities. (They also suggested she may be one of the “non-nominees who will never be” on the Grammy stage whose exclusion Justin Vernon lamented in his Grammy acceptance speech. Her exclusion is a travesty indeed, though certainly not a surprising one.) This album takes as its subject matter her father–his picture is on the cover–and tells more intimately relatable stories of hope and disappointment and loss, the small stories that punctuate our small (though by no means insignificant) lives. In her songwriting she makes these moments just as ambitious and archetypal as a journey into and out of Hades.
So many times while listening to this album I had to pause because my I was genuinely floored by the beauty of an arrangement, a lyric, a musical phrase. To me this is her genius: she is operating within the folk genre but she manages to sound completely new, different, and unique. Her voice is so clear and continually manages to surprise.
Standouts from Young Man in America: “Annmarie,” (my favorite, below) “Coming Down,” “Shepherd,” “Ships,” “You Are Forgiven.”
You can see Justin Vernon offer his take on the first single off this album, “Coming Down”:
Please, just take a few minutes and look her up, on Spotify or Grooveshark or YouTube or iTunes, or ask me and I will burn you a CD (with the understanding you will then purchase it on your own)!
And then, come out and see her on Friday night. SPACE is a great venue for live music, especially someone super chill like Anais Mitchell. I promise, once you have been introduced to Anais’s music, you will never be the same! And you won’t want it any other way.