Anais Mitchell may not yet be a household name but over the last decade she’s gained patronage from Ani DiFranco, recorded with Bon Iver, and played at London’s Royal Albert Hall as part of this year’s BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
It’s a journey that’s taken her from a liberal upbringing on a farm in Vermont to playing at sell out gigs that are peppered with literary references. These story led narratives demand close attention and she’s met with a duly respectful adoration as she walks on stage armed with just an acoustic guitar.
Many artists would flinch at such a naked performance but years of touring have given her a confident stage manner, joking about wanting Bonnie Raitt to record the bluesy pop of ‘Any Way You Come’ and bursting out laughing at the audience’s whistling during ‘Wedding Song’.
It’s down to her charismatic stage presence that such asides don’t detract from the highbrow nature of her work, with 2010’s Hadestown being a folk opera based on ‘the story of Orpheus and Eurydice set in post-apocalyptic Depression-era America’.
Currently in development as a stage production, album tracks such as ‘His Kiss, The Riot’ have a theatrical bite in the way they speak for the downtrodden. It’s a less direct way of addressing politics than DiFranco, who remains her strongest influence, but there’s a fierce social agenda to set closer ‘Why We Build The Wall’.
Elsewhere the drama is confined to the lyrics, with her choice of traditional folk ballads leaning towards the darkness of Alasdair Roberts’ songbook. It’s a sinister quality that, on ‘Willie Of Winsbury’ and ‘Clyde’s Water’, is somehow heightened when sung with the childlike innocence of Joanna Newsom.
This sweet conviction is further evident on the encore of ‘Coventry Carol’, performed acapella with support act This Is The Kit. As their two voices ring out, the timeless power of folk and Mitchell’s place within the modern canon is sealed.
Gig date: November 27