For more than 3 years, the world Anais Mitchell created in her folk opera "Hadestown" has dwelled almost exclusively in her native Vermont, where the New Haven native has satged two separate productions of her work in venues throughout the state.
Now, it's time for Mitchell to share the world she created in Vermont with the world at large. The third version of "Hadestown" came out March 9 on Righteous Babe Records, the label founded by indie-folk heroine Ani Di Franco. The follow-up to "The Brightness," Mitchell's 2007 debut for Righteous Babe, "Hadestown" features appearances from some of the biggest names in indie-folk: Di Franco, Greg Brown and young stars Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem, and The Haden Triplets, Petra, Rachel and Tanya, daughters of jazz legend Charlie Haden.
The all-star cast replaces the Vermont-based talent Mitchell employed for her "Hadestown" stage shows in 2006 and 2007; though the album does include guitar work from Michael Chorney, who wrote the score, and harmonica and vocals from Ben Matchstick, who created the vibrant visuals for the productions.
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Listening to this 25-year-old singer/songwriter perform her meticulously written songs, fervently singing them in a distinctive, almost childlike voice, you’d think it was her life mission to rouse the hearts and minds of her listeners with an acoustic guitar. But Mitchell wasn’t always committed to the idea. “I used to tell people I wanted to be a journalist. There is a lonely egotism and self-composure to journalists. Not unlike artists, they’re always traveling, always writing, loving their loneliness, feeling somehow that they have their finger on the pulse – worshipping the truth and trying to render it legible.”
Despite her journalistic leanings, Mitchell started writing songs at age 17 and eventually started performing them live during her school days, which were punctuated by a remarkable amount of traveling. In a short period of time, Anaïs made several trips to the Middle East, and also spent time in Europe and Latin America, studying languages and world politics. This stunning, troubadour-like experience seeped into her music, and she became adept at fusing her passion for literature and journalism in her lyrics.
With a clutch of quiet, ambitious songs in her arsenal, Mitchell recorded her now out-of-print debut, The Song They Sang When Rome Fell (2002), in a single afternoon in Austin, Texas. It was in Texas that Anais discovered the Kerrville Folk Festival, which honored her with the prestigious New Folk award in 2003. Soon thereafter, with the help of Michael Chorney and Chicago-based Waterbug Records, Anaïs released her second album, Hymns For The Exiled, in 2004. The stirring collection of guitar and voice cemented Mitchell’s status as a folksinger to watch, and the record eventually reached the ears of Ani DiFranco, a songwriter whose fusion of personal and political themes was a formative influence on a teenaged Mitchell. After seeing a few of Anaïs’ captivating concerts, DiFranco signed the artist to her label, Righteous Babe Records.
“If you knew what Ani DiFranco meant to me as a young woman and a young songwriter … well, I was simultaneously elated and in total disbelief,” Mitchell told a Vermont reporter after joining Righteous Bab Records. “It seemed too good to be true.”
The same can be said about Mitchell’s Righteous Babe debut, The Brightness, which hit stores February 13, 2007. During the recording process, Anaïs lived above the studio, which was built into an old Vermont gristmill. She could wake up, shake the sleep out of her eyes and record tracks in her pajamas, resulting in a decidedly intimate listening experience. Spilling over with worldly metaphors, intense emotions and unshakeable reverence to the art of song, The Brightness shimmers with creative spark.
Anais wrote and produced a folk-opera based on the myth of Hades and Eurydice: Hadestown, which was enthusiastically received during the winter of 2006-07.