Peter Mulvey’s recommendation: “Who’s killing me the past couple years? Anais Mitchell, that’s who. Hadestown, her latest record, is an update of the Orpheus Myth, set in a post-apocalyptic depression-era America. The record began life as a musical, which she managed, somehow, as a working singer/songwriter in her mid-twenties, to actually set in motion. A bus, rolling through New England towns, sets and costumes and actors and musicians. Making something like that happen is like free-jumping over a garage. You just don’t see it every day.
Then she made the record, and she got Greg Brown to sing the part of Hades, Justin Vernon as Orpheus, Ani DiFranco as Persephone, Ben Knox Miller as Hermes. Charlie Haden’s triplet daughters sang as the fates. How’d she convince these luminaries to join her cause? I’m guessing it was by writing first-rate, whup-ass tunes. Her melodies are keen, original, and bright. The lyrics are deft, sharp, and just plain entertaining: internal rhyme, great rhythm, wit, pathos. At heart, all performers long for the chance to slip into a great role. Actors love Shakespeare and Stoppard and Kushner because it’s like slipping into a Cadillac- just put a toe on the gas, and the car will take you there. I’m sure these singers felt the same rush when they heard the songs on Hadestown: “Seriously? I get to sing THAT? Where do I sign?”
The whole record fits together, front to back, tells one long story. Boy meets girl (OK, demigod meets girl, but who’s counting?), they fall in love, Death seduces girl, she descends, demigod follows, spirits guide him, fates caution him. Demigod sways Death’s wife with song, wife persuades Death, Death relents, then recants his relenting. Girl almost gets away. Demigod looks back, girl is gone forever. (Note to self: Greek mythology is refreshingly simple: you see god coming? Best turn and run!) To take the bones of that story and make a cohesive, entertaining record out of it is a singular feat. We’ve only got a handful of writers working on that level.
I’ve toured with Anais a little bit, and she’s charming and gracious and a natural onstage. She can really sing, really play, she’s a sponge, likes to learn things, to improvise. Still, I’m guessing the writing is where it’s at for her. Most of us write songs, and then notice a theme, and hopefully that theme leads us to write a few things that follow well enough, and we’ve got a record that holds together. But Hadestown… I doff my hat. It’s a complete experience, catharsis and all. I got to be part of one of the many CD release parties, got to sing the part of Orpheus, and after the whole show went down, the audience gave that long, deep, insistent ovation, the kind of applause that practically speaks: I Have Been Moved, it said. Nobody wanted an encore: there was nothing more to be said. The show was enough, more than enough. It was something they’d carry with them.
It comes along. Once in a while.”
About our guest author, Peter Mulvey: Peter Mulvey has literally played everywhere, starting from his humble beginnings in the Boston subway to Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center. Mulvey’s acoustic guitar playing is nothing less than dazzling, leaving many a concert-goer’s mouth agape. We at Rocktorch can go on and on about Pete, but let us leave it to this glowing quote from the Irish Times to sum up the praise: “Peter Mulvey is consistently the most original and dynamic of the US singer-songwriters to tour these shores. A phenomenal performer with huge energy, a quick fire, quirky take on life, and an extraordinary guitar style.” Peter’s latest release, a live collaboration with Kris Delmhorst and Jeffrey Foucaul, is called Redbird Live At The Café Carpe and, lucky you, Pete is currently also on tour.
MP3: I’m Beginning To See the Light by Redbird