Folkadelphia Session: Anais Mitchell

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Instagram by John Vettese
I have no idea what folk music really is, do you? Nowadays, here in the 21st century, ascribing genre descriptors to musical forms is pretty meaningless when you can shuffle from John Cage to John Mellencamp in nanoseconds. When I say folk music, your brain might conjure up images of country people stomping their boots on the hard, dusty dirt, claw hammering away on a banjer or a geetar, digging their proverbial roots into the proverbial musical ground. However, the term might have a positive influence as you remember the first time you heard Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie or the power of Sacred Harp Singing. Or you might immediately react derisively, scrunching your face up and bemoaning the present era “arena folk” of REDACTED BAND NAME #1 or REDACTED BAND NAME #2 (who aren’t even from AMERICA). It’s all subjective, it’s all loose definitions, and, to be honest, the only thing that genre descriptors like “folk,” “Americana,” or (please lord no!) “roots” do is to distract from what is actually important: the music, the artistry, the lyrics, the story, the chemistry, the musicianship, and the Je ne sais quoi from listening to a truly moving musician.

So, I have no idea what folk music really is, but that’s ok, I know truly moving musicians. In my own folksy world, Anais Mitchell is queen. Her expansive, thematically thrilling albums like Hadestown, which is the Orpheus story told via folk-opera or last year’s Young Man In America reign supreme over the cornfields and dustbowls of my folksy soundscape. That’s not to even mention the music she creates, music that deftly soars with harmonies, rings golden with a multitude of instruments, and tugs at the heart. It’s something to behold.

It was with absolute pleasure that we were able to record a few songs with Anais and her band members Rachel Ries and Ben Davis (from Philly/Brooklyn’s Cuddle Magic) before they played at Johnny Brenda’s on December 6th, 2012. Anais and Jefferson Hamer will be releasing their take on the Child Ballads later this year. Stream and download our session below.

In addition to recording this session to a hard drive, we also captured it on cassette tape for an interesting effect. Little did we know that the cassette deck was in disrepair and would introduce some artifacts and phasing issues into the mix. That being said, the humbly dubbed “warbly cassette mix” sounds like a long lost musical gem, perhaps discovered in the attic of an abandoned home. If you’re interested in hearing this cassette mix in its entirety, email fred@folkadelphia.com.

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