For all the Yankee readers who pine for the days when poetry graced our pages (and I count myself among that number) The Brightness comes to us now as a kind of consolation. Anais Mitchell has all the makings of a New England poet laureate. Born on a Vermont sheep farm she took a degree at Middlebury and traveled the globe. She combines her worldly knowledge with folksy roots, finding the grandiose in the mundane and capturing them with rich imagery and clever word play that you may not catch until you read the lyric sheet. In her joyously heartbreaking opening ballad “Your Fonder Heart” she subtly changes the refrain from “wondering wither your fonder heart lies” to “wondering whether your fonder heart lies.” By changing two letters she sums up the edge-of-the-cliff excitement and doubt of new love. That’s just about brilliant.
She backs up her song writing skills with a solid folksy performance. The first thing you will notice listening to this CD is her voice. It is mousy, impish, and unintentionally sarcastic. NPR fans will be reminded of Sarah Vowell (if Sarah Vowell sang). Personally, I found it instantly enchanting and a perfect fit for the record. Combined with minimal instrumentation and unusual, cascading phrasing, the spotlight shines directly on the vocals. A more conventional voice would eventually become boring and the strength of the song writing would be missed. But Anais steps up with a voice that makes you want to stop, listen, and analyze every nook of the sweetly puzzling poems she is laying before you.
This is Anais’s first release with Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. The label’s hands off artistic approach should give hope to those who love the literary side of music that the best is yet to come. Her current project, for instance, is a real bibliophile’s dream: a folk opera based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Persephone. Could we ask for more?
Albums available at Righteous Babe Records.