Masterpiece: Anaïs Mitchell – Hadestown

BUY IT: {Righteous Babe Records | iTunes}

There aren’t many albums I would recommend unequivocally to anyone I meet. But I’ll be damned if I know someone who wouldn’t like this album. Full of influences ranging from Disney musicals to swing jazz and all wrapped in a folk package. Playfully termed a ‘folk opera,’ Hadestown tells the story of Eurydice and Orpheus; an old Greek tale wondefully spun into an album.

“And they’re giving me hell,
back in Hades.”

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Released on March 9, 2010 (Ed.Note: Zohair’s 19th) from Vermont-based singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown is only the second album this year to get a ‘Masterpiece’ label from me.

Featuring a whole cast of characters who include Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (as Orpheus) and Greg Brown (whose deep growl gives Hades a great sound) and absolutely incredible orchestration from producer Todd Sickafoose, Hadestown is at once a grand artistic achievement and a focused story. The most immediate comparison that I can make is to that of Sufjan Stevens’ States projects which kept a personal bent despite their lofty endeavors.

It’s hard as hell to know where to start. Every track is its own beast, covering a different emotion. Opener “Wedding Song” is a lush folk track full of gorgeous production. “Way Down Hadestown” is a swing stomper. “Hey Little Songbird” sounds like a  really dark Leonard Cohen track–Greg Brown’s voice can’t be mentioned enough.  “Wait for Me” sounds like a Bon Iver track decked out, helped obviously by Vernon’s elegiac vocals. “Our Lady of the Underground” is a late-night jazz sizzler akin to 40’s divas. “Why We Build the Wall” is another dark folk track that sounds like a take on Pink Floyd.”Nothing Changes” is a beautiful acapella track showing off Mitchell’s harmonious skills. Instrumental portions like “Papers (Hades Finds Out),” “Lover’s Desire,” and the beginning of “Doubt Comes In” show off Sickafoose’s easy ability to orchestrate around an idea that is supported only by a song’s title. And the whole thing sounds like it’d make a great Disney musical (no surprise considering it actually was a theatrical show).

“Have I made myself their Lord
Just to fall upon the sword
Of some pauper’s minor chord?”

Lyrically, the album’s full of great little poetic bits and references. The story, unlike most album operas, is actually fairly easy to follow while maintaining emotional viability. I’ll admit I don’t know the myth that this is based, but after hearing the album I do feel like I have a solid grip on it. The story is engaging, without overbearing the songs themselves; emotion is the forefront. It’s a dark story and though I’d pay good money to see it animated into a musical/opera, but it wouldn’t be a Disney work.

After listening once, I stepped up the $15 to grab a disc version and I can already guarantee it’s going to be high on my year-end list. The album has incredible crossover and the sheer artistic balls of something so big is worthy of commendation alone, the fact that it works as well as it does is a feat to be sure. This is an album I can’t even think of a song to share–one would give but a small of the actual breadth of the album. and I have different favorites every time I listen to it. Honestly, if I could I would stream the whole thing, as it’s good enough that I’d have it on good faith that it’d be picked up.

But for now, here’s two:
Way Down Hadestown” and “Hey, Little Songbird

Download {Way Down Hadestown | Hey, Little Songbird}

If you need more proof, check Youtube, but the album tells a story and it deserves a full listen, straight through.

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