One of today’s most creative and authentic rising songwriters, Anais Mitchell is constantly finding new ways to reinvent folk tradition. She’s spent much of her career promoting Hadestown — her folk opera based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set in a post-apocalyptic American mining town — and the lyrics on her other albums are often timeless, even when they’re fueled by today’s politics. Here, she joins one of her Hadestown collaborators, singer/songwriter Jefferson Hamer, to interpret and modernize seven of the 305 English and Scottish ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s.
Their collection is short, sweet and intimate, with little more than acoustic guitars and vocals telling the tales of an ill-fated sailor, a quick-witted sister, and disapproving parents. (If you thought your in-laws were trouble, listen to “Willie of Winsbury” and “Willie’s Lady,” where you’ll meet a king who orders her daughter’s lover to be hanged, and a witch mother who casts a spell on her son’s pregnant wife.) Mitchell and Hamer have recorded accessible, American-folk renditions of these centuries-old songs, a fitting addition to the countless modern artists — among them Joan Baez, Nickel Creek, even Fleet Foxes — who have passed them on throughout the years.