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.