Scratched Into Our Souls

Anaïs Mitchell – ‘Hadestown’ (2010) | July 13, 2010

It’s an unfortunate reality that the blogosphere isn’t a perfectly sufficient entity. In an ideal world, cream would always rise to the top and the best artists would get their dues. Of course, this isn’t an ideal world, and reality takes precedence over everything else. It only takes a glance over the most popular songs on blog aggregator Hype Machine to let a feeling of dread set in. Hashed remixes, uninspired mash-ups, and other examples of vapid, shallow pop music provides evidence that the general public of music listeners are merely a group of ADHD kids with limited taste in music outside of club-bangers and anything with a melody they’ve already heard before.

That’s the context in which we find a young girl who deserves far more credit than she has received. Anaïs Mitchell is one of my favorite discoveries of 2010, a year which has been rich in new music from up-and-comers and established veterans alike. Her newest album is Hadestown, a self-described “folk-opera” which retells the famous Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice. However, there is a twist. The story has been re-imagined, and Hadestown takes place in the Great Depression-saddled America of the 1930s. Mitchell uses her choice to setting to appropriate numerous styles of classic Americana, utilizing muted horns, harmonicas, accordion, banjo, and acoustic guitars in a mix of jazzy-romps, ballads, and minor-key folk diatribes.

Playing Eurydice herself, Mitchell puts up a masterful performance alongside well-known artists like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver (Orpheus), Ani DiFranco (Persephone), and Greg Brown (Hades). The album twists and turns through Americana gracefully and almost haphazardly, but that’s what adds to its appeal, keeping the listener at the edge of their seat. The music is simultaneously intimate and cinematic, especially the heart-wrenching “Wait For Me,” in which Orpheus sets out on his quest to retrieve Eurydice from Hadestown.

Anaïs Mitchell has constructed a modern classic of American folklore by retelling one of the most famous stories of all time, and resetting it in a tumultuous period of American history which has a lot more in common with the post-Clinton years than we’d all like to admit.

While critics are eating up the triple-disc monstrosity that is Joanna Newsom’s newest effort, they’re sleeping on a real slice of classic folk storytelling, and robbing everybody of one of this year’s essential musical experiences.

Check out two essential cuts from the album below.

Listen: Anaïs Mitchell – “Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)”

Listen: Anaïs Mitchell – “Wait For Me (feat. Ben Knox Miller and Justin Vernon)”


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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

    Add me on last.fm: http://www.last.fm/user/crob3888

    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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