Anaïs Mitchell‘s Child Ballads will be released on March 19th. The album finds my favorite female singer-songwriter collaborating with Jefferson Hamer on covers of traditional English and Scottish folk ballads famously collected by Francis James Child. As Anaïs herself says, “most of the heroines are pregnant and most of the heroes are named ‘Willie.’“
I could easily wax poetic about the lofty concept of the album (as many already), but I must admit disappointment with this collection. The fault lies entirely on the monotonous nature of the songs rather than Anaïs herself. Anaïs’ voice, arrangements and instrumentation are impeccable throughout, but the strength of her music has always lain as much in her brilliant songwriting as it has in her performance. So this material just isn’t quite up to par with her own compositions.
There are exceptions, though. Most notable are the opening track “Willie of Winsbury” and especially the epic fable “Tam Lin.” The latter has also been covered by The Decemberists and was the inspiration for their Hazards of Love concept album.
Child Ballads is worth a listen for Anaïs’ unusual voice and her cover of “Tam Lin” alone — even more so if you’re a fan of the other folk songs included on the album.
Child Ballads Tracklist
Willie of Winsbury (Child 100)
Willie’s Lady (Child 6)
Sir Patrick Spens (Child 58)
Riddles Wisely Expounded (Child 1)
Clyde Waters (Child 216)
Geordie (Child 209)
Tam Lin (Child 39)
Muruch favorite Anaïs Mitchell was featured in a recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert. The stripped down performance makes her poetry even more poignant. Featured in this performance are the songs “Shepherd,” “Tailor” and the title track from her album, Young Man in America (Muruch’s #1 of 2012). You can see the video and download an mp3 of the performance below.
2012 was a very good year for music. Sometimes it’s difficult to come up with enough albums for my year end list, this year the problem was narrowing down my choices. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, watch videos and/or download mp3s. Then comment with your favorite albums of the year.
“…Dala’s penchant for peppy country-pop harmonies and melodic folk-pop melodies fall somewhere between Lady Antebellum and Sylvie Lewis…sweet vocals, tinkling piano and buoyant strings…a pop culture cornucopia with references to everything from Shakespeare to Annie Hall“
“…I expect Eric McGrath won’t be Ireland’s best kept secret for long…McGrath’s intimate singing style and breezy, multi-instrumental compositions often fall somewhere between Bright Eyes and Xavier Rudd, which is an extremely interesting and unique place to be. But even such grand comparisons are tenuous, because Eric McGrath is definitely blazing a creative trail of his own.“
“…Xavier is one of my all-time favorite artists and his music never fails to amaze, uplift and thoroughly entertain me…Xavier wrote, sang and played every instrument (of which there are many) on this spectacular new collection.“
“…Not only does The 2nd Law continue that grandiose marriage of arena rock and classical music, but its futuristic electronic twist allows the album to stand completely on its alone. Definitely one for the year end list…weaving thunderous rock, classical song structure and instrumentation with operatic backing vocals into a glorious, cross-genre cacophony.“
“…the teenage opera duo were this year’s Susan Boyle on Britain’s Got Talent…Talent like Jonathan & Charlotte’s and an album like this doesn’t come along often, so I hope they have a long, successful career ahead of them.“
“…a very splendid and beautiful collection…elegantly serene…Andsnes and the other musicians do a superb job in their individual performances of each work. Even more noteworthy is their musical coalescescence.“
“…shockingly upbeat sound…Cat Power is still as sultry and mysterious as she always was, but the music is very much uptempo…There’s just something so unique about Cat Power’s voice, lyrics and song structure. That unusual quality makes what could be, should be pop songs something entirely different. It’s unpop.“
“…The album explores pop, New Wave and synth rock in a way that is quite a departure from Palmer’s old punk cabaret band The Dresden Dolls, but it often has the same twisted wit, high energy and frenetic pace…the bombastic Theatre Is Evil is the best argument for fan-funded albums“
“…Have I mentioned I love The Mynabirds? The thumping, catchy, claphappy, fiercely femme indie sound of their new sophomore album, Generals, is somewhere between Lykke Li and Bats for Lashes. Thus the love…the album is deliciously rife with the band’s signature blend of synth-pop, rock, wails, hand claps and stomps.“
“…a tribute to The Mamas & Papas and The Beach Boys…their harmonies are as lovely as ever and very reminiscent of the two bands who spawned them…a sunny, summery, very catchy and surprisingly well orchestrated collection of classic pop covers.“
“…Khatia Buniatishvili’s Chopin is not only my favorite of the Chopin albums released this year, it’s my favorite classical release of 2012…Her nimble fingers are a perfect fit for the classical piano master’s compositions and her selection from his work is superbly diverse. Buniatishvili’s Chopin is an absolutely exquisite collection.“
“…Where did this guy come from?…McPherson’s music is a delicious mix of brassed up retro soul and rumbling vintage blues-rock. It’s been a very long time since I was struck by such an intense sense of awe while listening to an album…sound like classics by Little Richard, Jackie Wilson or The Big Bopper with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Sun Studios-era Elvis thrown in.“
“…who is this band and how can anyone make an entire album of music this good? Song after song, I would think I’d heard the best of the album only to be even more amazed by the next track. This is music for any band to aspire to and for any music fan to get very excited about.“
“…Norah has finally found a dark, dreamy sound interesting enough to successfully break away from those old coffeehouse categories without losing the mellow charm that made her famous. Produced by Danger Mouse, …Little Broken Hearts spices up pretty post-breakup pop anthems with luscious splashes of noirish electro-rock.“
“…Fiona Apple’s first album in seven years, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, weaves the fierce emotion, poetic lyrics and masterfully constructed compositions of her previous releases with a much more rugged recording style and strong splashes of jazz. The collection is somewhat unexpected and strange, but it’s also exquisitely beautiful and brilliant.“
“…Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm….Young Man in America is both an ambitious recording project and a beautifully rich tapestry of classic folk songwriting. Anaïs Mitchell just may be my generation’s most talented singer-songwriter.“
The radiant Anaïs Mitchell stole the show for me. This was the third Mountain Stage appearance by Anaïs that I’ve attended, so she’s tied with Amy Correia as the artist I’ve seen perform the most times at the venue. She never fails to deliver a captivating live performance, and her set at Mountain Stage last night was no exception. Sadly, I didn’t realize until the concert started that my camera’s batteries were dead. I don’t think you could capture that magic on film anyway.
As I said in my review of her superb new album, Young Man in America (click album title for my review), : “Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm.“
Anaïs’ dual role as singer and poet were on beautiful display on stage last night. She always had a charming stage presence, but her on-stage confidence seems to have blossomed over the years. Her “Young Man Band” – comprised of singer Rachel Ries (Anaïs’ Country EP partner), bassist Noah Hahn and multi-instrumentalist Ben Davis – provided worthy accompaniment. Davis’ banjo playing during “Dying Day,” which opened the set, was especially noteworthy.
“Dying Day” was the perfect way to introduce the audience to Anaïs and her new album. It was remarkable how her performance evoked a strong, positive reaction from everyone in the crowd, regardless of age – both the middle-aged man beside me and the little girl sitting in front of me nodded their heads along to the song.
Anaïs and her crew combined brief “Wilderland” and the title track from Young Man in America into one seamless, stellar medley. All of the songs sounded even better live than on the studio recording, but “Young Man in America ” was especially moving.
Anaïs’ plaintive call of “my daddy was a repo man, put me out onto the street, didn’t give a damn for me, did not give a damn!” brought tears to my eyes, and the haunting transition from the song’s final lyric “let me climb back in the bed you made me in” to the gorgeous instrument flourish that closes the song was absolutely hypnotic.
Anaïs’ set wasn’t heavy on banter, but she did talk a bit about her father when introducing the song “Shepherd,” which was inspired by his out-of-print novel The Souls of Lambs. It is her father’s face that adorns the cover of Young Man in America and Anaïs joked about his not wanting to cut his hair so people would recognize him from the picture.
During Anaïs’ emotive rendering of “Shepherd,” I noticed bassist Noah Hahn kneeling down on one knee with his eyes closed and his face turned up toward Anaïs. It seems her heartfelt vocals and musical narratives were as rapturous to the members of her band as to those of us in the audience.
“Tailor,” while not a favorite track of mine on the album, was incredibly powerful live – especially Anaïs’ breathy sighs of “Who Am I?” in the last verse. She then ended her spectacular set with “You Are Forgiven.”
After three brilliant albums and three magnificent live performances, Anaïs Mitchell has cemented herself as my favorite contemporary artist.
Anaïs Mitchell will perform a rare full concert in West Virginia at Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall on April 14th. I hope to attend and review that show as well, so stay tuned.
To say Anaïs Mitchell’s fourth album, Young Man in America, was my most anticipated release of the new year would be a chasmic understatement. Listening to this worthy followup to 2010′s spectacular “folk opera” Hadestown, I kept thinking Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm. Young Man in America, which features guests Chris Thile and Rachel Ries, will be released on Mitchell’s new independent label, Wilderland Records, on February 28th. I don’t think it premature to predict it will be on my year end list next December.
The sparse yet dramatic instrumental intro to the album’s opener, “Wilderland,” blooms into a haunting, humming choir of voices. The title of the track, coined by Anaïs after she witnessed a family being evicted from their home, gave her record label its name.
The album’s impressive title track is one of those songs that burrows deeper beneath the skin with each listen. Anaïs’ folk orchestra of players provide a lush and stunning arrangement, particularly in the horn-driven instrumental finale of the song.
The song’s lyrics, and the general theme of this entire song cycle, share the tale of a Prodigal Son of sorts. The titular “Young Man in America” is a rebellious youth seeking to quench his discontent and wanderlust with travels, drugs, alcohol and various other excesses and indulgences…all of which fail to satisfy his melancholy hunger.
Another wayward son / waiting on oblivion
Waiting on the kingdom come to meet me in my sin
Waiting to be born again / mother kiss me cheek & chin
“Dying Day” is another stunner with its choral harmonies, steady rhythm, poetic lyrics and Chris Thile’s lovely mandolin embellishments.
The beautifully tragic ballad “Shepherd,” based on her father’s novel The Souls of Lambs, sings of a worked-obsessed farmer whose wife dies in childbirth as he tends his fields.
The storm was o’er within the hour / the shepherd saw the sun come out
The shepherd’s wife saw ne’er again / he buried her and the babe within
He turned the seed into the ground / he brought the flock to feed thereon
He held the cleaver and the plow / & the shepherd’s work was never done
Even tracks that didn’t initially captivate me, such as “Venus” and “Anne Marie”, grew on me with subsequent listens to the extent that I wondered why I didn’t love them at first listen.
To be honest, Young Man in America doesn’t compare to the magnificence of Hadestown or the delicate charm of 2007′s The Brightness. But then, what could? It’s probably like whatever Michelangelo created immediately after sculpting David and painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Some artistic heights are simply too lofty to surpass no matter how gifted the artists or how great the subsequent art. Taken on its own merit, however, Young Man in America is both an ambitious recording project and a beautifully rich tapestry of classic folk songwriting. Anaïs Mitchell just may be my generation’s most talented singer-songwriter.
It’s that time again! Following are my Top 25 Albums of 2010. Like ‘em or not, these are the albums I’ve personally enjoyed and listened to most often in the past year. Click on the album titles to read the full reviews, purchase the albums, and, in some cases, download mp3s…
“…an excellent mix of infectious pop melodies and singer-songwriter acoustics…Her multi-faceted voice effortlessly flows from impressive Divaesque acrobatics to a warmer, relaxed charm reminiscent of classic Carole King.“
“…Conceptually and musically, this multi-facted, genre-mashing masterpiece has everything you could want in an album and then some. And Janelle’s supernatural vocal range is as chameleonic as the songs she sings.“
“…transforms the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a post-apocalyptic American fable with Depression era style and indie-folk sensibility. This gorgeous, exciting project reminds me why I love music so much and why I love writing about music so much.”
I expected Sunday night’s Mountain Stage concert to be good, but even I was suprised at just how fantastic it turned out to be. The lineup was Anaïs Mitchell, Danielle Ate the Sandwich, Horse Feathers, Delta Spirit and Black Dub.
Led by singer-songwriter Justin Ringle, the band’s current touring lineup is violinist Nathan Crockett, cellist Catherine Odell, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Cooper. After seeing Alex Wong, The Low Anthem and Lost in the Trees at Mountain Stage, I’m not as easily impressed by multi-instrumentalists as I used to. However, Sam Cooper ‘s ability to play the banjo and the drums at the same time was nothing short of extraordinary. Unfortunately, his drum set prevented me from getting a good shot of him in action.
The highlights of Horse Feather’s set were the hypnotically sparse title track from the new album and the beautiful ballad “Cascade.”
Next up was the incomparable Anaïs Mitchell. When I first saw Anaïs perform at Mountain Stage two years ago, she played a captivating song called “Why We Build the Wall” from a “folk opera” she was working on at the time. Since then, her “folk opera” was completed, recorded, and released by Righteous Babe Records. Hadestown is by far my favorite album of 2010, and to say I was excited to hear portions of it live would be a chasmic understatement.
The studio recording of Hadestown featured such well known guest vocalists as Ani Difranco, Greg Brown, Petra Haden, Bon Iver, and Ben Knox Milller of The Low Anthem. Sadly, though, it was impossible to book all of those artists for one Mountain Stage show. Instead, Anaïs was accompanied by her Hadestown co-composer Michael Chorney and “The Hadestown Orchestra.” Fine by me, Anaïs’ superbly nuanced voice has more than enough emotion and inflection to portray the entire cast of characters herself.
Since last winter, I have played the Hadestown album on repeat so many times that I know it by heart from beginning to end and love it with a passion and admiration I usually reserve for great literature. The monumental brilliance of the album was difficult to recreate in a live setting without the extra players, but Anaïs was absolutely resplendent and her backing band did an excellent job.
I wrote all about the inspirations, inner workings, and song descriptions in my rave review of the Hadestown album (click title for review). Long story short: Hadestown resets the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in a fantastical Depression-era walled city with a gold mine. Proving my point that this isn’t your typical concept album, Anaïs provided little background on the songs she performed at Mountain Stage. Yet the audience obviously enjoyed and enthusiastically responded to each song for its own substantial merit without any need for context.
Anaïs began with “Wedding Song,” the Orpheus and Eurydice love duet that opens the album The stage arrangement and Anaïs’ vocals seemed much more buoyant than on the studio recording, which I think added the crowd’s enjoyment of the song. The faster, jubilant tempo didn’t work as well for Hades’ call-and-response “Why We Build The Wall.” The orchestral stage arrangement didn’t have quite the same chilling impact of Greg Brown’s quietly menacing album version or Anaïs’ previous solo acoustic performance. That slight disappointment aside, though, it was still a great performance.
Anaïs was wonderful as Persephone in the swaggering, speakeasy number “Our Lady of the Underground.” As much as I love Ani DiFranco’s version, I think Anaïs’ voice was better suited to the setting and time period. And hearing Anaïs sing Eurydice’s melancholy theme “Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)” live was as moving as expected. She ended her set with “How Long?,” the duet originally recorded as “Hades and Persephone” on The Brightness.
There are several videos on YouTube from the original Hadestown productions, and you can hear Anaïs Mitchell’s solo performance at Mountain Stage of “Why We Build The Wall” at NPR.
As I said in my review of her album Two Bedroom Apartment, Danielle Ate the Sandwich is Nebraskan singer-songwriter Danielle Anderson and she describes her sound as “seven minutes in heaven with the most popular girl’s significantly less attractive best friend.”
Let me tell you, Danielle is freakin’ adorable in person. And not just because of her cool horn-rimmed glasses and bright green sweater. Her down to earth demeanor, wry in-between songs banter, heartfelt vocals and pretty acoustic melodies quickly charmed the audience. And that girl sure can pluck the life out of a ukulele.
I was a little worried for her having to step in Anaïs Mitchell’s shadow, but I must say Danielle Ate the Sandwich stole the show. If she ever tires of singing, she could easily have a career in standup comedy. She kept thanking us for being nice to her and alternated between self-deprecating quips and grandiose statements to the radio audience about her “amazing” instruments. After confessing her discomfort among “cool-looking musicians,” she said “I look like I made straight A’s, don’t I?”
Jokes aside, her voice was strong and beautiful. Danielle is a prime example of why I hate the current crop of Auto-tuned, packaged pop and country stars. Truly great singers don’t need any effects to make their voices sound perfect. She played “Bribes,” her funny ode to “El Paso,” the audience favorite “We Are Hot Dogs” and “American Dream.” But it was her lovely tribute to her grandfather, “17 and 53,” that stood out most to me.
You can watch and hear Danielle sing several of her own songs as well as some unusual covers at her YouTube channel.
Delta Spirit (which I keep confusing with The Duke Spirit) were formed by bassist Jon Jameson and drummer Brandon Young, both former members of Noise Ratchet . The band played songs from their new sophomore album History From Below, the highlights of which were the small-town boy in the big city anthem “St. Francis” and the love gone wrong ballad “Scarecrow.”
Lead singer Matthew Vasquez’ gritty vocals and the band’s combination of dusty tales and rowdy folk-rock were reminiscent of Felice Brothers. They were so good, I was starting to think it was going to be one of those rare Mountain Stage concerts that I loved from beginning to end. It almost was, but then…
Black Dub featuring guitarist-producer Daniel Lanois, singer Trixie Whitley and drummer Brian Blade ended the show with an extended set of rock, soul and Jamaican dub music. They played tracks from their recently released self-titled debut.
The first half of their set was astonishingly good and I was shocked to hear such a big, formidable voice emit from Trixie’s lil body. That girl can wail with the best of them. The highlights were “Surely” and “Sing.”
But when the band switched from soulful blues-rock to what Lanois called “cinematic” music, the evening took a long and boring turn for me. Longtime readers know how I feel about jam bands, and that is what Black Dub became for the second half of their set. The long instrumentals and repetitive vocals seemed popular with the musicians I glimpsed gathered backstage, but it’s just not my thing.
Anaïs Mitchell, Danielle Ate the Sandwich and members of Horse Feathers joined the Mountain Stage band for the group finale – a cover of the traditional “Sinner You’d Better Get Ready.”
Sometimes on these group sings, the whole isn’t equal to the sum of its parts. But this time all the singers sang in glorious harmony and it was one of the better finales to the show I’ve heard.
You can hear my voice in the new edition of Contrast Podcast, which has the theme “Best of 2010 (So Far).” My pick was Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown album (click title for my review) and I submitted the 100% legal, label-authorized mp3 “Flowers (Eurydice Song).” Hadestown will almost certainly still be my #1 album of 2010 at the end of the year.
I’m thrilled to be able to give away 2 copies of Anaïs Mitchell’s magnificent new CD Hadestown (click the album title for my rave review), featuring Ani Difranco, Greg Brown, and Bon Iver. See contest details and download two mp3s from the album below.
2 winners will receive 1 copy of Anaïs Mitchell’s new CD Hadestown
Comment to this entry with the name of your favorite myth or your favorite musical (or both) and your email address. All new comments are moderated to avoid spam, so it may take a day for your comment to appear if you haven’t commented on Muruch before.
Note: This contest is open to everyone, but all contestants must enter with a valid email address in order to qualify. The winners of the contest will also be required to provide me with their full name, phone number, and postal address for shipping purposes.
The contest will end on Friday, February 26th. The winners will be chosen at random and contacted via email.
Anaïs Mitchell is already known as a phenomenal singer-songwriter, but now she has proven herself to be a brilliant poet and playwright with her new album Hadestown. This studio recording of Mitchell’s “folk opera” will be released on March 9th by Righteous Babe Records, and features such well known guest vocalists as Ani Difranco, Greg Brown, Petra Haden, Bon Iver, and Ben Knox Milller of The Low Anthem. In Hadestown, Anaïs transforms the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice into a post-apocalyptic American fable with Depression era style and indie-folk sensibility. This gorgeous, exciting project reminds me why I love music so much and why I love writing about music so much.
the enemy is poverty and the wall keeps out the enemy
that’s why we build the wall, we build the wall to keep us free
I should preface this review by saying that Hadestown should not be avoided if you dislike musicals or concept albums. I know many people were turned off by The Decemberist’s Hazards of Love since the tracks were difficult to listen to individually. But the songs of Hadestown stand strong on their own and together make a magnificent album. It is what I would imagine Les Misérables might have sounded like if it had been written by Woody Guthrie.
The underworld in Hadestown is a corrupt company town with a gold mine. Surrounded by a country sunk deep into financial crisis, the inhabitants of Hadestown have been tricked into viewing their walled city as a safe haven. The common people mindlessly follow their oppressive ruler Hades out of fear and greed, trading their freedom for a false sense of security.
Anaïs uses this as the setting for a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, in which a devoted musician travels to the underworld to retrieve his dead bride.
Anaïs Mitchell originally wrote the stage musical in collaboration with director Ben Matchstick and orchestrator Michael Chorney, and the folk opera was performed in Vermont in 2006 before going on tour throughout New England. When it came time to record the album, Anaïs reworked many of the songs and put together a new cast of indie stars Ani Difranco, Bon Iver, Petra Haden, and The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Milller, as well as folk favorite Greg Brown.
I was initially disappointed that Anaïs didn’t choose to sing every song herself. I adored her simple, heartfelt solo interpretation of “Hades and Persephone” on The Brightness and the haunting rendition of “Why We Build The Wall” she performed when I saw her live at Mountain Stage two years ago.
The thought of Greg Brown’s presence in particular made me cringe. Enduring two painful Mountain Stage performances by Brown had put him on my “things I intensely dislike” list somewhere between Taylor Swift and Dane Cook.
I also thought Bon Iver had been horribly miscast as Orpheus. The mythical Orpheus was supposed to be such a supernaturally gifted musician that even nature and inanimate objects fell under the spell of his voice and lyre. I felt that kind of character really called for stronger pipes than Bon Iver’s mellow voice.
However, listening to the album erased all of the disappointments and pre-conceptions I had. I still would have liked a bonus disc of Anaïs performing the songs alone. But in the context of the Hadestown story, every casting choice makes perfect sense and Anaïs has made me love Greg Brown and Bon Iver with the substantial material she gave them to sing.
Bon Iver (credited as Justin Vernon) plays an optimistic, boyish Orpheus. The album opens with “Wedding Song”, a duet between Orpheus and his new bride Eurydice – portrayed here beautifully in the sweet tones of Anaïs Mitchell.
The barking of stray dogs and a lone harmonica herald in the dazzling “Way Down in Hadestown.” The Low Anthem’s Ben Knox Milller (as messenger Hermes) leads Bon Iver, Ani Difranco, Anaïs Mitchell, and a chorus of former Hadestown cast members in a sing-a-long propelled by Tin Pan Alley instrumentation. It only took one listen and I was singing along. This song belongs on Broadway.
“Hey, Little Songbird” finds the dulcet tones of Eurydice tangling with the sinister, seductive growl of Hades. Greg Brown’s Hades is all jaded, bitter, gristled blues, and his voice has never sounded better. The deep gravel of his throat is especially effective in the xenophobic anthem “Why We Build The Wall,” in which Hades and his brainwashed “children” engage in a call-and-response recitation of the wall’s chilling purpose.
Vernon’s Orpheus has taken on a melancholy tone as he follows Hermes’ whispered directions to the underworld in “Wait For Me,” and seems to consider abandoning his quest before regaining his courage in “If It’s True.”
There are no innocent victims in Hadestown. Eurydice and Persephone are traditionally viewed as chaste maidens who are held hostage by evil Hades, but these musical counterparts seem to have brought themselves to the underworld with their own moral weaknesses.
Eurydice pines for her lost love and former life in “Gone, I’m Gone” and “Flowers (Eurydice’s Song),” while The Fates (Petra Haden and her sisters – billled as The Haden Triplets) slide in to taunt her with menacing Andrews Sisters croons on “When The Chips Are Down” and “Nothing Changes.”
Ani Difranco’s rich inflections add a new dimension to the character of Persephone. “Our Lady of the Underground” has a Mae West swagger and runs a subversive speakeasy in her infamous husband’s murky world.
In the original myth, not even the cold heart of Hades can resist the beauty of Orpheus’ music, and so he is granted permission to bring Eurydice back to the world of the living. In Hadestown, however, it’s the persuasion of Persephone that convinces the dark king to release the two young lovers.
Ani Difranco and Greg Brown give the most emotional vocal performances of their respective careers in their duet of “How Long?” – a revamped version of “Hades and Persephone.” As much as I loved Anaïs’ original recording, Difranco and Brown truly bring the characters of Hades and Persephone to life as they argue over the fate of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Hades contemplates the effect his compromise might have on the power he holds over his kingdom in “His Kiss The Riot,” but in the end allows the young couple to escape on the sole condition that Orpheus not look back at Eurydice on the way out.
“Doubt Comes In” as Hades predicts when Orpheus is unable to keep his eyes off his beloved for the entire journey for fear she has fallen behind. As a result of his doubt, she is pulled back into the underworld and he loses her forever.
The tragic tale ends with the lament “I Raise My Cup To Him,” a lovely duet between Anaïs Mitchell and Ani Difranco as Eurydice and Persephone.
There are several videos on YouTube from the original Hadestown productions, and you can hear Anaïs Mitchell’s performance at Mountain Stage of “Why We Build The Wall” at NPR.