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Anais Mitchell - Hadestown [Album]

Anais Mitchell - Hadestown [Album]

Righteous Babe Records

Review 2991 Views
Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire May 21st, 2010.

So this CD is described as “A Folk Opera” on the front cover of the promotional copy, but not on the copy as sold by Amazon. Now, I have listened to plenty of folk music in my past, and to be honest there are few artists playing in this genre that I can honestly say I like. For me, folk music leaves images of real ale swilling, bearded men in brightly coloured sweaters, singing while smoking a pipe whilst inserting one finger in an ear, in a smoke filled bar. So that gives you an idea how long it has been since I have been to a “folk night”. That may be a bit unfair to the genre as a whole, but, with a couple of exceptions, it is my experience of it thus far.

Anais Mitchell is one of those exceptions to the rule. "Hadestown" is her 4th release and possibly her most adventurous to date. The songs in this opera are quite complex, multi-instrument arrangements. Furthermore, the list of recording facilities used, while not well known studios, is none the less impressive. "Hadestown" was recorded in New York, New Orleans, Iowa City and Los Angeles.

All the lyrics are by Anais, the score is by Michael Chorney. I have to say at this point I can’t tell you what the story line running throughout this opera is. But, if I am honest, I couldn’t tell you the story behind any opera! Actually, research has led me to believe that this is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. That said, there is a lot here to listen to. I don’t mean it’s a long album, but there are some clearly defined influences. Everything is here from pure folk music through Broadway musical. There are happy songs, sad songs and sinister songs. They flow seamlessly from one to the other, no gaps between the songs here, which is also quite refreshing to hear.

If I had to single a couple of songs out from the twenty tracks on "Hadestown" the first would be ‘Way Down Hadestown’. This song has strong Jazz influences, and sounds like something you might hear in the French Quarter in New Orleans. The chorus is reminiscent of a Broadway musical. The finished article is highly polished and a lively upbeat song, which will have you both tapping your foot and joining in the chorus.

The second song would be ‘Why We Build The Wall’. This has sinister vibes with the male vocal questioning why we build the wall, and who is the enemy? The cast’s chorus line providing the answers. It’s a very interesting lyric, and it reminds me of Bob Dylan in an odd sort of way. The rest of the songs are of equal quality, and some serious thought has gone into this piece of work. This is not a collection of songs written to fill a CD, nor should it be confused with a prog rock "concept" album. This is very much an opera, but written with folk, jazz and blues music as the soundtrack.

"Hadestown" is an interesting listen, and if you are not really into folk music, like me, you really should give it a spin. Interestingly Anais is currently touring in the US, but she will be appearing on 24 / 25 / 26 May at The 12 Bar Club on Denmark Street in London. If you live in London, I would urge you to go along and have a listen.

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