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Anais Mitchell

Although she’s not exactly a freak-folk artist by any stretch of the imagination, her kooky child-like vocal style has an odd similarity to JOANNA NEWSOM, SHAWN COLVIN or, indeed, TORI AMOS. Born March 26, 1981 on a farm in Addison County in Montpelier, Vermont, Anais (pronounced “uh-nay-is”) began her musical vocation by writing songs when she was just seventeen. She went on to study at Middlebury College and took a degree in global politics travelling throughout Europe and the Middle East in the process.
Released on her own label, THE SONG THEY SANG… WHEN ROME FELL (2002) {*5} won her praise from anyone who had the chance to hear it, Waterbug Records for one were impressed enough by this set and her subsequent Kerrville Folk Festival appearance, into letting the singer display her confessional charms on HYMNS FOR THE EXILED (2004) {*6}; the title track, another shot from her previous effort.
It was clear that she needed a boost from somewhere. This came in the shape of ANI DiFRANCO and her Righteous Babe imprint who was obviously enthralled by her recordings so far, while a subsequent stage “folk opera” production entitled Hadestown (based on the Greek mythological tales of Orpheus and Eurydice set in a future-day America) was also touted. However, it’d be THE BRIGHTNESS (2007) {*7} that first surfaced on her newfound label. Yes, Anais had now come of age. Introspective, meditative and a little autumnal, her moods could switch like the drop of a hat, tracks such as `Hades And Persephone’ and the opener `Your Fonder Heart’ led the way from both ends of her emotional spectrum.
A farmgirl at heart, her collaborative `Country’ EP with Rachel Ries marked time until the epic one-hour HADESTOWN (2010) {*8} finally saw light. Showcasing a stellar cast of friends and associates playing roles and performing (MITCHELL herself as Eurydice), her lifetime’s ambition was probably through this colossal mythical masterwork. On one hand there were BON IVER (Justin Vernon) as Orpheus, GREG BROWN as Hades and ANI DiFRANCO of course as Persephone, while on the other was The LOW ANTHEM’s Ben Knox Miller as Hermes and the Haden triplets (Petra, Tanya and Rachel) as the Fates; death, despair and desire were given equal reference on tracks such as `Epic’, the jazzy `Our Lady Of The Underground’ and `How Long’. In a few years (not too far in the future), Anais’s own little underworld should become more than just fantasy, as many people might just be rolling her name as easily as her aforementioned peers/cast members. Best track? Arguably, the profound and political `Why We Build A Wall’, featuring the aforementioned GREG BROWN.
2012’s YOUNG MAN IN AMERICA {*8} was another album to enlighten her growing legion of fans. Interlocking themes about that recurring American dream, the prairies and deserts, her author father (whose pic appears on the sleeve) and other heavy-duty mood swings, Anais’s vocals matched relevant pieces `Wilderland’, `Shepherd’, `He Did’ and the title track. Promoting the record on tour supporting PATTY GRIFFIN, there was no doubt that the chirpy `Venus’ would please the crowds, whilst her slow waltzes added weight to her contemporary take on Americana folk.
On the back of a conventional trek band in time with Jefferson Hamer on the traditional CHILD BALLADS (2013) {*6}, a new-look ANAIS MITCHELL kept it mighty low-profile on her acoustic takes set, XOA (2014) {*8}. Part autobiographical, part love letter to her long-admiring fans, Anais could feel easy that she’d revisited her best songs (and more), while it was inevitable that she’d also re-work her oblique Orphean operetta `Hadestown’ for a 2016 stage production; BILLY BRAGG would reinterpret `Why We Build A Wall’ and sing her praises at 2015’s Glastonbury.
© MC Strong/MCS 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Oct2016

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