If she'd been any more mainstream or, say, a country artist, Hymns For The Exiled...
Jon Lusk 2008-05-12
The first thing that strikes you about Anaïs Mitchell is her voice. It's not as kooky as Joanna Newsom, nor as girlish as Stacey Earle, or even as worldly as Cindy Lauper, but somewhere in between all three. That makes it something of an acquired taste, but if you're a fan of any of these artists, you'll probably 'get' it.
The second thing that really comes across is that this artist isn't afraid to be political with her lyrics. Maybe that's one reason why feminist folk icon Ani DiFranco signed Mitchell to her Righteous Babe label. Originally released in 2004 on Chicago's Waterbug Records, Hymns For The Exiled is actually Mitchell's re-released second album, and the one that clinched the Righteous Babe deal. Her third album The Brightness (2007) is yet to see a UK release.
It's probably a reflection of her underground status at the time, but if she'd been any more mainstream or, say, a country artist, Hymns For The Exiled might have inspired the kind of right wing backlash suffered by The Dixie Chicks after their comments about the Iraq war in March 2003. Bush's war in/on Iraq and ''government lies'' are recurring themes, most obviously voiced on The Belly And The Beast. By the second to last track Two Kids, she's singing the words of Syrian poet Noor al-Din Ba'aj. And on the closing One Good Thing, she's asking us to tell her ''one good thing about my country''. Unpatriotic, un-American or what? What's surprising is how much less controversial this viewpoint now sounds four years later.
And the tunes? Apart from the opening Before The Eyes Of Storytelling Girls, The Belly & The Beast, the sublime Orion (a heartfelt dedication to a fellow musician who has died, perhaps by their own hand), and the tradition-based Mockingbird, there isn't really enough in the way of memorable melody. That may more noticeable because of the generally sparse and fairly unremarkable arrangements for acoustic guitar, bass, violin and viola, but hopefully The Brightness will find Mitchell's undoubted way with words is matched by her music.