The One I Left BehindPosted: 29 January 2011
I just gave in to temptation; I bought an album which I have had my eyes upon ever since first I heard it a year ago, courtesy of a rather excellent post from The Basement Rug in March 2010. It was the so-good-it’s-euphoric Hadestown, written by American folk artist Anaïs Mitchell. It cost me £7.49 and was worth. Every. Single. Penny.
And then some.
Why We Build the Wall (featuring Greg Brown)
Hadestown is a folk opera; a 2010 collaboration between Mitchell and several other obscenely talented musicians, such as the renowned Ani DiFranco. As the title might suggest, the story is a reworking of the classical Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, whom he brings back from the underworld only to lose her again, tragically, at the gates of hell.
This in itself is like candy to someone like me, who adores old tales and regards the Greek myths as the paragon of storytelling. But this is not all which Hadestown has to offer. The classical story is artfully interwoven into the setting of a post-apocalyptic depressionist America; a background which will no doubt appeal to any listener who stumbles across this absolute masterpiece of an album.
Our Lady of the Underground (featuring Ani DiFranco)
Ani DiFranco plays the part of Persephone, goddess of the underworld and Greg Brown her husband Hades. Ben Knox Miller is Hermes and the Haden Triplets the three Fates. Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon becomes Orpheus and Mitchell herself appears in the part of Eurydice, his doomed lover.
It is pretty impossible for me to express just how awesome this record really is. I could talk about the mature, poetically brilliant lyrics and wonderfully exciting arrangement of sound which, when combined together, make this album the musical equivalent of a laden twelve course Christmas banquet – refined, euphoric and so full of meaning almost too rich to take in at once.
Flowers (Eurydice’s Song)
I could attempt to describe the refreshing yet instantly recognizable identity that Greg Brown brings to the part of the god of the underworld; the quirky elegance and compassion-with-attitude which Ani DiFranco brings to Persephone. Or the bittersweet beauty of Anaïs Mitchell’s voice which virtually soars above the rest; especially in my favourite track, the truly ethereal Flowers (Eurydice’s Song).
But I could never do justice with words to Hadestown. I could only let the music, and the lady, speak for themselves.
When I play Hadestown songs in my own shows, I usually introduce the show as quick as I can saying, “It’s based on the Orpheus myth, and set in a post-apocalyptic American Depression era …” At some point in the past year I noticed people were laughing pretty loud when I said that—it was so close to home! The real moral of Hadestown to me is, yes, we’re fucked, but we still have to try with all our might. We have to love hard and make beauty in the face of futility. That’s the essence of what Persephone sings at the end of the show: “Some birds sing when the sun shines bright / my praise is not for them, but the one who sings in the dead of night / I raise my cup to him.”