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Hadestown

4.8 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Anais Mitchell's new album Hadestown is proof that music still has the power to surprise and delight. For starters, the guest list includes some pretty well known names. And it's an honest-to-god album, the kind whose songs tell a story from beginning to end-specifically, the ancient Greek myth of the poet Orpheus and his doomed quest to rescue his wife Eurydice from the underworld. Hadestown features a veritable who's who of modern indie folk/rock: Justin Vernon of Bon Iver plays Orpheus; Greg Brown is Hades, lord of the underworld; and Ani Difranco plays Hades' strong-willed, subversive wife, Persephone. Also on hand in is Ben Knox Miller of The Low Anthem as the messenger Hermes. Mitchell herself sings the part of Eurydice, the character whose (metaphoric) death propels Orpheus into 'hadestown. Hadestown is both a lyrically and musically compelling story; one that is simultaneously dark, yet uplifting.

Review

"...a superb and frequently entertaining re-envisioning of a classic tale that also happens to be a ripping good story. ...It's a surpassingly strange and moving work, quite unlike any music I've ever encountered, and further evidence that weird can be wonderful, particularly when the lyrics are as insightful and the music as beautiful as this." -- Paste magazine, March 2010

"...gritty, intelligent folk-pop and soul-flavored music that sometimes also evokes Brecht/Weill." -- Philadelphia Inquirer, March 2010

"An album you can savor over and over again..." -- Burlington Free Press, March 2010

"Anaïs Mitchell is already known as a phenomenal singer-songwriter, but now she has proven herself to be a brilliant poet and playwright with her new album Hadestown." -- muruch.com, March 2010

"It's a musical opera that's unlike any opera you've ever witnessed. It's Indie rock mixed with Dixieland. It's Homer's Odyssey as performed by Pink Floyd." -- blogocritics.org, March 2010

"The music is as bleak and friendly and beautiful and creaky as Randy Newman doing his Tom Waits impression at a Kurt Weill convention." -- Fingertips.com, March 2010

"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. ...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. " -- Allmusic.com, March 2010

"When 98% of what passes as music today lacks even the remotest twinge of an idea, thought, emotion or worse--heart--Hadestown and Anaïs Mitchell deserve all the listeners and accolades we can give. Pass it on." -- Folk and Acoustic Music Review, March 2010
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 9, 2010)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Righteous Babe
  • ASIN: B0034JIOWK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,673 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I think it was W.H. Auden who warned poets against relying too heavily on subject matter pulled from the "myth-kitty." In the last thirty years or so, one of the most frequently used and abused myths has been that of Orpheus and Eurydice, a tale most famously presented in Ovid's Metamorphoses, though most movingly in Vergil's Georgica. In fact, the myth has become a kind of emotional short-hand, allowing writers of all stripes to indulge their own fantastic visions of themselves as heroic figures attempting to rescue lost love from oblivion. In short, the myth has been popularized, and, as often happens with what becomes popularized, its strength has been diminished by repeated usage, the way a statue's hand can be worn away by generations of passersby high-fiving or shaking it.

And yet one of the best, and most over-looked, records of 2010 has been Anaïs Mitchell's Hadestown, which recasts the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in a setting that is at once a mid-twentieth-century mining town and also the timeless city of Death. With Hadestown, which is a record adapted from a musical play, Mitchell presents Orpheus and Eurydice as sweet-singing rustics, who are separated when Eurydice is ultimately lured to "Hadestown," a kind of materialistic big-business world governed by Hades, suggesting the spiritual death of "selling out." The new terms added to the myth allow the songs a great range of styles, from NPR-friendly contemporary folk to a kind of vaudevillian swing.

The retelling of this myth is strengthened by the spectacular cast who take part in the record. Mitchell herself voices Eurydice, and uses the soft drawl of her voice to evoke everything from desire to pity.
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I've been waiting for this album ever since I heard Mitchell perform "Why We Build the Wall" as an opening act for Susan Werner, and the lyrics gave me chills. On Hadestown, she manages to create several more such moments, in the songs "Hey, Little Songbird," "If It's True" and "Doubt Comes In." Not every song in this cycle is of the same caliber: "How Long?" in particular is conspicuously weak. But "Wedding Song" is sublime, and "Way Down Hadestown" and "When the Chips Are Down" are more fun than should be legal. Mitchell makes particularly effective use of theme-and-variations repetition in her lyrics, percussive instrumentation, and quasi-Appalachian melodies and harmonies. I have literally had some of these songs stuck in my head for days. They've even gotten into my dreams. How many musicians can pull off a stunt like that?
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One of the many great things about "Hadestown" is that it was originally designed as a stage show; the practical considerations required to pull something like that off require tighter, clearer storytelling than most "concept albums" have. Although totally different in tone and genre, "Hadestown" stands alongside "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" in my mind as one of the two or three albums-with-storylines that are worth listening to.

Hell--forget "worth listening to"; "Hadestown" is a masterpiece.

My only two criticisms:
1: Brown doesn't seem like the perfect choice for Hades. His gravelly voice is full of menace, but it sounds a little too wrecked sometimes; Hades has to be slick and--in a way--sexy, but he comes of more like a military man than a conniving tycoon.
2: The longish instrumental intros to many of the songs work onstage (I saw an early production of "Hadestown" a couple of years ago), but they slow the pace a bit in the album.

One more note of praise: as much as I love Mitchell's voice, I was pleased by the balance in "Hadestown"; she wrote the songs, but she's smart and humble enough to keep herself out of center stage enough to create a nice panorama.
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I originally ordered this CD on a whim; I was teaching Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice to an intro level Women's Studies class and I wanted to see if this CD would be a good complement to the play. I thought I might find a song or two worth playing for the class, something to add another dimension to our discussion of the reinterpretation of mythology and cultural stories. When I listed to the CD in its entirety, it felt like nothing less than a revelation.

Grandiose? Perhaps. But what I mean by a revelation is that is cut through my pop culture sensibilities that had fallen in love one too many times with disposable, guilty pleasure music. Not only was this music crafted and complex, it carried an emotional resonance beyond what I was used to hearing, even in indie rock, folk, and other types of "serious" music. And who doesn't love a concept album done well by talented musicians?

And talent is perhaps the greatest asset of this collection. Mitchell's ethereal voice is wonderful as the conflicted Eurydice, but becomes part of a large and ever more satisfying tapestry when combined with the quirky vulnerability/strength of Ani DiFranco (Persephone), the earthy growl of Greg Brown (Hades), the homespun harmonizing of the Haden Triplets (The Fates), the strangely affecting Ben Knox Miller (Hermes), and of course Justin Vernon as the naive but determined Orpheus.

The entire album is really wonderful to listen to with no real low points; if asked to highlight the really special gems, I would recommend the following:
*-When The Chips Are Down (Haden Triplets)-This number is upbeat and biting, the harmonizing excellent, and the only criticism I can give it is that it is far too brief.
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