Anaïs Mitchell – Hadestown
(Righteous Babe Records, 2010)
This is more than an album, it’s ‘a folk opera based on the Orpheus myth and set in post-apocalyptic American depression era’. That explanation alone is what caused me to skip over this release when it came out in March of last year. A folk opera? Not exactly something that peaks my interest.
I have to admit I had never even heard of Anaïs Mitchell before Hadestown, but when this album started popping up on year-end lists by people I respect, I thought I should give it a chance. Then I saw the cast and I knew I had to check it out.
Anaïs Mitchell as Eurydice
Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as Orpheus
Ani DiFranco as Persephone
Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem) as Hermes
Greg Brown as Hades
The Haden Triplets as The Fates
Even with the all-star line-up above, this album wouldn’t be anything if the music wasn’t any good. The problem with structured projects like this tends to be the structure itself. Greek Mythology is a heavy theme for a folk album and in the wrong hands it could have become something interesting, but unlistenable. That is not the case with Hadestown.
The majority of the tracks here can stand on their own outside the story being told. Anaïs gives every artist a chance to shine and at times it actually sounds like a Louisiana jam session. This is some of the best material from Justin Vernon since For Emma, Ani is right in her element on the jazzy sections and Anaïs reminds me a lot of Joanna Newsom. I think Tom Waits would have been perfectly cast as Hades, but Greg Brown holds his own as the King of the Underworld.
There are times when it does get a little too theatric. These are the times when tracks exist specifically to tie the story together and will be much more interesting to those who see Hadestown performed in a live setting. But these track do their job without hinder the listening experience.
Recommended to anyone who likes Bon Iver, Joanna Newsom, The Low Anthem, Ani DiFranco and Tom Waits.