Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Hymns for the Exiled

I have this folkie streak in me. Most of the time I want more volume and more instrumentation, but there are times when I can embrace albums that quietly get their messages across. Anaïs Mitchell's second album, 2004's Hymn for the Exiled, is such an album. It keeps the accompaniment turned down, mostly relying on an acoustic guitar, and her spare, slightly cracking, and beautiful voice. I don't need to listen to the lyrics -- the aching in her voice and gentle guitar can leave me delighted on their own. If she ever wanted to try her hand at country, I feel confident Nashville would welcome her (if she left her politics at the door).

But I don't stop with the sounds, because the lyrics to the album's 11 songs are generally excellent -- most of the lyrics are political, usually tied to the U.S. government or gender. "1984" turns Prince's "1999" on its ear, telling us that with the arrival of Orwell's Big Brother in the guise of the USA Patriot Act, "we're gonna party like it's 1984." "Two Kids" told partly in English, partly Arabic -- while I don't have the translation of the latter, I assume it mirrors the English part, with a child talking about his father hiding in a shelter, afraid of the people who hate all Americans. The speaker in "I Wear Your Dress" tells her grandmother that while she wears an old dress of her grandmother, two generations later, she doesn't need to wear the role that society placed her grandmother in. The album concludes with "One Good Thing," where someone depressed about current political news implores a significant other to tell him/her one good thing about the USA (presumably to prevent fleeing to Canada).

I can't help but compare the album to early Ani DiFranco -- a little more accompaniment, a little nicer voice, but the same quiet insistence. I look forward to trying Mitchell's debut album, The Song They Sang When Rome Fell (2002), which I have lying unopened on the table next to me.

Rating: 10/10

Full Disclosure: After I had already added the album to my wish list, but before I acquired it, I found out that Mitchell is sister-in-law to an acquaintance.

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