Vermont-slash-Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Anais Mitchell was a fast-rising star upon her 2002 arrival to the scene, with out of the gate recognition from Kerrville’s New Folk competition and early adoption onto Ani Difranco’s record label, Righteous Babe, thanks to a strong debut recorded in a single afternoon and a distinctive knack for prescient hooks and heavy subjects couched in sweepingly intimate production and a distinctively, deceptively innocent yet complex and carefully honed voice. These days, her name-recognition runs high inside the broad boundaries of folk, and her talent is in high demand, as demonstrated by tours with Bon Iver, Josh Ritter, Punch Brothers and The Low Anthem, collaborations with Jefferson Harmer and Rachel Ries, and kudos from Pitchfork, NPR, The New York Times, and more.
If fame outside the folkworld or prodigious output were a measure of success, she would remain insulated. But although it has been three years since her last release, and five since her last of all new original work, there is something essential about Anais Mitchell right now. Just a half dozen studio albums into her career, Mitchell has become a true mover and shaker in the folkworld, cited by peers and press as central to the definitive depth and honesty that typifies the nucleus of the current folk generation.
A powerhouse out on the bleeding edge, her collaborative work, including our previously-featured exploration of the Child Ballads with Jefferson Harmer, which won a BBC Radio Two Folk Award for Best Traditional Track, is sharp. Her output – including the epic, introspective 2012 release Young Man In America, and folk opera Hadestown, which brought folk heavyweights Greg Brown, Justin Vernon, The Haden Triplets, and Difranco together to voice the Ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and has since been both toured with a rotating cast and turned into a New York stageshow due to return for the 2017-2018 season – reveals an artist exploring the potential of folk to speak deeply and cohesively about the world on a scale heretofore unattempted, illuminating the world of the political and the personal into sharp relief.
The proof, of course, is in the coverage, both in its richness and in its very fact. Note notables such as Billy Bragg and Bon Iver in the mix below, taking on the Anais songbook in homage and early tribute to a truly worthy songwriter and craftsperson. Take note, as well, of the flexibility of song here, as the lo-fi acoustic and the rich mix rebuilt, the balladeer and the barroom singer, the mellow and the mean, the jamband and the celtic take their turns on the canon, and come up roses.
Listen as others come to echo the echoes – revealing a set rich in Bandcamp discoveries, and diverse in tone and tenor, as befits the deep, versatile songbook that Mitchell offers forth. Pick and choose, or download them as a single set. And then, as always, click through to go back to the source – to celebrate, as it were, the artists who continue to circle around song, and around the whole of us, from Anais Mitchell herself to those who would braid their gifts with hers, to the betterment of us all.
- An apt introduction from folk and social justice icon Billy Bragg, whose respect for Mitchell and for the power of political song frames a transcendent performance of a song originally performed by Greg Brown as the modernized king of the underworld. Put it against the bold potency of Chi-town amateur Carey Farrell, whose slowly deepening production slowly drowns us in despair, for a hell of an opening set.
- Nicole Goode: Wilderland (2014)
- Toronto-based filmmaker and soundtrack soundscape creator Nicole Goode records tense, echoey, glitchy cover goodness, nominally with her morning coffee. And it is mesmerizing, rough and raw and bottomless.
- New York-based “folk rock Japanese band” Robin’s Egg Blue‘s sudden turn into newgrass jamband territory turns a transitional Hadestown track into a resting point reminiscent of the psychedelic Steeleye Span era, lingering in the river of madness until it seems like the struggle will never end. Epic, indeed.
- The stand-out track from a late December covers release from Jess & Alek Deva, aka The Night Owls, “a married couple living and working in beautiful White River Junction, VT.”
- Paola Bennet: If It’s True (2016)
- Soft tender balladry from “Boston native and New York transplant” Paola Bennet, found on a well-populated Soundcloud page that offers more from the amateur delight.
- Emma Carroll: Wait For Me (2012)
- A dreamy, echolayered take on Wait For Me, a tiny fragment from the magnum opus that is Hadestown. From Irish amateur Emma Carroll, an enigma otherwise.
- Justin Paul Ortiz: Shepherd (2014)
- A straightforward plainsong approach to a personal favorite from Soundcloud amateur Justin Paul Ortiz. Don’t underestimate this one: the lack of adornment lays the song bare, revealing strong bones at the core.
- Travis Knapp: Orion (2016)
- A simple, elegant popfolk setting from prolific Ithaca, NY singer-songwriter, activist, and mindfulness practitioner Travis Knapp‘s 9th annual covers collection evokes grand pianos and candelabras as it pays homage to the tender, confessional side of Mitchell’s early canon.
- Two Anais Mitchell covers from the stark solo Saturday morning cover recordings of Soundcloud amateur Sophia Stewart, a nuanced vocalist and solo stringstrummer well worth visiting for more.
- A slightly countrified, well-produced lullaby version of Mitchell’s transposition of two West Bank refugees: one to be Jesus, the other a forgotten Palestinian. Joyce Andersen‘s hearty, heart-filled voice makes for a perfect pairing alongside Harvey Reid’s subtle pick and slide.
- Parsley: O My Star (2014)
- Cambridge, MA duo Parsley‘s forefront harmonies lend a dustbowl honesty to this wistful, wild cut, originally penned and performed by Rachel Ries and Anais Mitchell on their duo EP Country.
- South Carolina ex-pat Garris, now living in China and preparing for a stint as a yoga teacher in India, partners with friend Kira for a four-track EP featuring a solid Tom Waits cover and this subtle slackstring soft-track, gentle, wistful, and aware of its unrefined honesty.
- If there is such a thing as perfect lo-fi experimental anti-folk in the modern marketplace, it is embedded in The Last Clarissa’s hollow covers and recordings, each one rushed and anxious, resonant as a silo sing, and honest as the night.
- Broken, flickering life from Bryan McFarland, another amateur hard to uncover. No matter: the song speaks for itself, with low recorder and layers of lush guitar pulsing around grungy octave harmonies for a dirge-like dark despair.
- Justin Vernon at his most tender and fragile, with gentle guitar and piano in low, tinkly parallel; Vermont bluegrass duo Cricket Blue at their tightest in sorrow, singing the fear of Icarus towards the sky and sun. And so we end as we began: vulnerable to the world, and the variances and vagrancies of song and lyric in tension: the crash impending, the loss palpable, the hope everlasting.
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