Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"It's difficult to greet the terms 'folk opera' and 'concept album' with anything but the skin-crawling revulsion usually reserved for headlines about 'Broken Britain'. Particularly so when they concern a rather portentous sounding retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice transported to Depression-era New Orleans. But Anaïs Mitchell's'Hadestown' allays any potential awfulness with an easy grace that defies any accusations of pretension. Anaïs plays Eurydice, her naïve hiccupy tones contrasting gorgeously with Ani DiFranco's sagacious turn as her mother, Persephone. Bon Iver's Justin Vernon was surely born to play Orpheus, whose lovelorn song broke Hades' malignant soul. It's nothing short of incredible, whether you extract individual tracks like'Wedding Song' - where Eurydice worries about money while Orpheus looks to the trees for solutions - or listen to the endearing tale as an artfully rollicking whole. Mitchell has always been good, but 'Hadestown' is her Odyssey." -AllAboutJazz
Uncut (magazine) (p.115) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "HADESTOWN has made her an Americana princess....The zest and narrative flow of the piece never falter."
Personnel: Anaïs Mitchell (acoustic guitar); Michael Chorney (acoustic guitar, prepared guitar); Jonathan Goldberger, Brandon Seabrook (electric guitar); Tanya Kalmanovitch (viola); Marika Hughes (cello); Ben T. Matchstick (harmonica); Rob Burger (accordion, piano); Nate Wooley (trumpet); Josh Roseman (trombone); Todd Sickafoose (piano, pump organ); Mike Dillon (vibraphone).
Audio Mixers: Mike Napolitano; Ani DiFranco; Todd Sickafoose.
Recording information: Brooklyn Recording, Brooklyn, NY; Dugout, New Orleans, LA; Earycanal, Brooklyn, NY; Eau Claire, WI; Glenwood Place Studios, Los Angeles, CA; Lovetown, Middlesex, VT; Minstrel Recording, Iowa City, IA.
Illustrator: Peter Nevins.
Arranger: Michael Chorney.
Singer and songwriter Anais Mitchell wrote the first draft of her "folk opera" Hadestown in 2006 with arranger Michael Chorney and director Ben T. Matchstick. After numerous drafts and performances, it is set in stone here. Hadestown retells the Orpheus and Eurydice myth set in an America of hard times economically, socially, and politically. (There is a hint of the great Depression as a setting, but only a hint.) The cast includes Mitchell as Eurydice, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as Orpheus, Ani DiFranco as Persephone, Greg Brown as Hades, Ben Knox Miller (The Low Anthem) as Hermes, and the Haden Triplets -- Petra, Rachel, and Tanya) as the Fates. The large band includes Rob Burger, Jim Black, Josh Roseman, Nate Wooley, Todd Sickafoose, Marika Hughes, and Tanya Kalmanovich, to name a few.
Hadestown's narrative, like the myth, steeps itself in ambiguities more than dead certainties. It moves past dualities of good and evil, life and death, hope and despair, while examining how commonly held beliefs about class reinforce poverty, how our desire for security is complicit in giving away our freedoms, and what real generosity in love actually is. Nowhere is this more evident than a Brown showcase number, "Why We Build the Wall." (With the cast/chorus unintentionally answering Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land" anthem that would make him weep with grief.) There isn't a weak track here, but high points include "Our Lady of the Underground," sung by DiFranco; the fierce, yet tender "How Long" with Brown and DiFranco; both parts of Vernon's "Epic," Mitchell's and Vernon's "Doubt Comes In," and "I Raise My Cup to Him," by Mitchell with DiFranco. Everything here is ambitious, nothing is excessive. The music ranges with classic American folk forms: country gospel, ragtime, blues, and early jazz, to approximations of rock, swing, and avant-garde -- all of it immediate, accessible, and inviting. Vernon's vocal range -- husky baritone to sweet falsetto -- does justice to Orpheus. Only a singer like this could write a song beautiful enough to rescue his lover from the Underworld. Mitchell doesn't make herself the star, but is nonetheless. She is convincing as Eurydice; her lyrics are poetic, and her melodies unpretentious, yet sophisticated thanks to Chorney's arrangements. This 57-minute work goes by in a flash. Artfully conceived, articulated, and produced, Hadestown raises Mitchell's creative bar exponentially: there isn't anything else remotely like it. ~ Thom Jurek
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