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Album Review

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.

Customer Reviews

Great performance

This album is an engaging story from start to finish, with some really fine performances throughout. I don't usually go for musicals, but this is a worthy and distinct exception for me. Especially love Justin Vernon's presence as a bonus.

A Masterpiece

Quite simply, this is the best album I've heard from the last ten years. The music is simple in form and appearance, but reveals itself to be deceptively complex, divinely produced, and superbly arranged. The lyrics have the same quality: unpretentious, yet gorgeous and poetic. The performances are inspired and meld together perfectly.

There is absolutely no weakness to any of the cast. Justin Vernon and Ani DiFranco give excellent vocal performances in songs like "If It's True" and "Our Lady of the Underworld." Greg Brown, meanwhile, performs Hades in a sort of half-singing, half-speaking rumble. It is mighty, unique, and absolutely enthralling, perfectly suited to the music. Anais Mitchell herself has a lovely, husky voice that warbles well clear of most modern trained singing, but sounds both natural and absolutely beautiful in "Flowers" and "I Raise My Cup to Him." And, lastly, the Haden Triplets provide the subtly sinister harmonies of the Furies.

To summarize, this album is a must-buy. Be sure, though, to purchase it in its entirety, as it is best enjoyed in its complete form. It's worth every single cent and more; this is an oustandingly creative and mesmerizing interpretation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice. In my honest opinion, this is the best American folk opera since Gershwin's "Porgy and Bess," an anomaly in modern music that will very soon be viewed as a classic. Get it and see for yourself!

Visionary Heroine!

Anais is the storyteller of our time -- she is the voice of the past present future and I am so amazed at her evolving body of work.


Born: Vermont

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Heavily influenced by the confessional alternative folk stylings of Ani DiFranco, Anaïs Mitchell began writing songs when she was 17. Born in Vermont, she attended Middlebury College and traveled throughout the Middle East, Latin America, and Europe studying global politics before alighting in Austin, TX, in the early 2000s. She released her first album, The Song They Sang When Rome Fell, in 2002. Mitchell performed at the Kerrville Folk Festival the following year, where she was awarded with the...
Full Bio
Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell
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Customer Ratings