Free and legal MP3: Anaïs Mitchell

Memorably sung, sadly swinging ballad

“Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)” – Anaïs Mitchell

Slow down and breathe with this one—it’s a burner and a keeper. And don’t be worried that the song is part of a so-called “folk opera” that reworks the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in Depression-era America. In fact, I probably shouldn’t even have mentioned that. Forget I said anything.

Instead, just listen: to Mitchell’s indelible voice—part pixie, part pop star—and her incandescent phrasing; to the unhurried viola which accompanies her so balefully (note to self: the viola is one underutilized instrument) and turns the song on one unexpected note (1:47); to the ache and pain that exists around this piece but never, completely, in it. In much the same way, the song unfolds with its simultaneously steady and hesitant gait and never quite coalesces into any solid verse or chorus structure. The mighty myth that underpins the music provides all the structure we need, and Mitchell’s lyrics, in service to it, can be stunning in their understatement. Here’s how Eurydice recalls what may have been her last living moment: “Walking in the sun, I remember someone/Someone by my side turned his face to mine/And then I turned away, into the shade.” By and large she uses short, concrete words and trusts her splendid voice to add layers of meaning. Listen, for one example, to how she sings the simple word “now” at 1:09. I don’t think you can teach that.

Hadestown is the name of the theatrical work that the Vermont-based Mitchell wrote in collaboration with composer Michael Chorney. It premiered in Vermont in December 2006, and went out on a partially fan-supported tour of New England in 2007. The recording, for Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records, features a variety of prominent indie music voices—including Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Petra Haden, and Ben Knox Miller (the Low Anthem)—along with grizzled folkie Greg Brown and Ms. DiFranco herself. The album, well worth checking out, will be released next month.

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