Album Reviews

Anaïs Mitchell – Anaïs Mitchell

(BMG) UK release date: 28 January 2022

Eighth album from Vermont singer-songwriter brings personal reflections to life with delicate minimalism and heartfelt warmth

Anaïs Mitchell - Anaïs Mitchell Anaïs Mitchell is best known for Hadestown, her 2010 folk opera based on the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that developed into a successful show on Broadway and beyond. It wasn’t a surprise given its ambition, breadth and musical quality, comprising 20 tracks that featured appearances from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Ani DiFranco, Greg Brown and Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem. Since then she’s pursued other musical avenues with similar, if less celebrated, success. 2012’s Young Man In America saw her give her emotionally hard-hitting folk songs a modern update while Child Ballads, her 2013 collaboration with Jefferson Hamer, saw them cover more traditional folk ground. Recent years have seen her dedicate time to her role in Bonny Light Horseman (the trio she plays in with Eric D Johnson and Josh Kaufman) but she has also found time to release her eponymous, eighth album.

It’s clear from the start that this is one of her most personal and intimate collections, with many songs having both a delicate minimalism and heartfelt warmth to the reflections they bring to life. Nowhere does this apply more than on opening track Brooklyn Bridge which sees Mitchell tenderly recount a late night taxi journey through New York with a special companion. It’s delivered over the sparsest of arrangements, a simple piano line with discreet string/saxophone accents (the album features contributions from The National’s Aaron Dessner, Thomas Bartlett and Nico Muhly among others).

The Grammy nominated Bright Star follows, striking a more familiar sound as she declares how “there are lengths to which you’ll never know I went to be your lover and beloved in your sight”. It’s proof of how she continues to be a flawless communicator of emotions and desires. On Your Way (Felix Song) is dedicated to Felix McTeigue, an artist she crossed paths with earlier in her career before he sadly died in 2020. It’s another supremely powerful depiction of friendship and finding your way in the world that carries broader life resonances given more recent developments. “Solo show, Lower East Side, no one showed, sang the B-sides” Mitchell sings, finding solace in the memory of companionship and shared experience.

Real Life sees her touch on everyday life moments that don’t always find their way into songs (there’s something unexpectedly beautiful about hearing her sing about eating with your mouth full or blowing your nose). Now You Know might have first appeared on her 2014 album Xoa, but an updated version is included here, and still registers as one of her most honest and revealing moments as she reflects candidly on significant life moments: “When I think about dying I think about children, and when I think about children, I think about you, and when I think about you I feel like crying, crying for my youth”. 

Little Big Girl carries an important message of support and encouragement to an unnamed woman (and by extension all females of the world) and is another stand out moment, conveyed with Mitchell’s shatteringly beautiful delivery. It also demonstrates how she is capable of instilling both fragility and strength into her songs merely seconds apart in this case. The likes of Revenant and Backroads see her further reflect on past life events, again both exquisite in how they are constructed and expressed. Watershed offers a perfect closer, spacious yet deeply atmospheric, and with an uplifting sheen. If music is primarily about establishing connections and sharing emotions these songs prove that there are few songwriters as adept at it as Mitchell. Hadestown may have gained her success through her successful harnessing of external inspiration but by turning attention inwards on this occasion she’s delivered one of the quietly outstanding albums of the year.

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More on Anaïs Mitchell
Anaïs Mitchell – Anaïs Mitchell
Anaïs Mitchell + Bonny Light Horseman @ Roundhouse, London
Anaïs Mitchell @ Little Theatre, Gateshead
Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer – Child Ballads
Anaïs Mitchell – Young Man In America