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There aren’t too many musicians that release one genuine masterpiece in their career, let alone two in the space of three years. Vermont-based singer songwriter Anais Mitchell appeared to do just that with 2010’s Hadestown and 2012’s Young Man In America. Hadestown was a delightfully conceived concept record revolving around a Great Depression era interpretation of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, with a star studded cast headed by Justin ‘Bon Iver’ Vernon as Orpheus and Ani DiFranco as Persephone, with Mitchell in no way overselling herself in the Eurydice role. The ambitious breadth of songwriting is outstanding – from the call and response blues of ‘Why We Build the Wall’, the musical theatre-cum-country and western of ‘Way Down Hadestown‘ and the Joni Mitchellisms of ‘Wedding Song‘ in particular excelling. The album was universally lauded and was rightly acknowledged as one of the very best of that particular year.
It would have been easy to imagine Mitchell’s follow up being dwarfed by the sheer scale of her prior achievement but she confounded expectations in returning with the understated yet majestical Young Man In America. Young Man benefits from the consistency of approach and the focus on Mitchell’s Parton-meets-Lauper voice, her outstanding songwriting ability and subtle yet constantly engaging instrumentation. Lyrically, she excels as evidenced on the album highlight ‘Tailor‘ where she tells the story of the emptiness and lack of identity felt when a woman’s love goes unreciprocated, while the title track uses delightful imagery and language, another key feature of what makes Mitchell so special.
A frequent visitor to Brighton in recent years, Mitchell was last here promoting her 2013 Child Ballads record, a re-interpretation of classic English 19th century folk songs with frequent collaborator Jeffson Hamer. She is a confident live performer, honed surely by the pre-Hadestown years of travelling the States with just an acoustic guitar for company. She has that seldom-seen ability to wrap the crowd around her little finger, which will create an intimacy of performance even in the Komedia, a venue double the size of the Blind Tiger where she played in 2013. Currently she has nothing announced for future release but being the prolific writer that she is, don’t be surprised if at least part of the set is dedicated to songs that will comprise part of her next masterpiece.