Anais Mitchell, Martin Carthy and Italian Folk Music

By: Brendan

Anaïs Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer’s Child Ballads is the subject of this NPR Weekend Edition segment. Legendary folk singer Martin Carthy is also featured in the piece. Carthy was the also subject of a fascinating Desert Island Discs BBC episode this year. My favorite track from that episode is the following song from the Alan Lomax archive, Genoese Longshoremen singing “La partenza (The Parting).”

La Partenza (Genoese longshoremen) (Italy) '54 by any song in the world on Grooveshark

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Anais Mitchell: Child Ballads

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)

Pre-Order @ Amazon

Anaïs Mitchell Official Site