Late last night, I got a short Facebook message from my friend Monique, saying only "thought you might like this" alongside a Youtube link (the first of the two on this page). I was a bit tired - after all, I was already in bed and had just popped onto Facebook from my iPod before turning out the lights.
A little under 6 minutes later, I was previewing Anaïs Mitchell's new album Hadestown on iTunes. After hearing short clips of a couple more songs on the album (including Way Down Hadestown, which is where I got really hooked), I'd purchased it. An hour later, I finally turned out the lights and went to sleep. I listened to it again on my bike ride into work this morning. And then again while I was making dinner after getting home from work.
Something about Hadestown is deeply touching and personal, despite it being primarily a retelling of the myth of Orpheus & Eurydice (albeit reset in what seems like, to use one critic's words, "post-apocalyptic Depression-era America"). It's actually hard to pin down Hadestown to a particular genre of music. It successfully combines folk, ragtime, swing, blues, big band, a little bit of rock, and even some hints of the 1960s-style folk. Yet, despite this wide range of genres, Anaïs manages to weave a common sound throughout. She doesn't do it on her own, however (and that's OK). The album also features Ani DiFranco (whose label Righteous Girl Records signed Anaïs), Justin Vernon, Ben Knox Miller, Greg Brown, and the Haden Triplets.
Anaïs calls Hadestown a folk opera, and even provides a libretto on her website to describe the story. And that's really the interesting thing about the album. Although there are a couple of songs that can stand on their own (Wedding Song, Why We Build the Wall, and Our Lady of the Underground), they're just so much better as part of the larger whole. This is one of those rare albums that you have to listen to from start to finish in order to really appreciate and enjoy.
You owe it to yourself to buy this album and put it on repeat for a couple hours.