The much-loved contemporary folk musician Anais Mitchell has reached across the pond for new inspiration.
British folk-rock pioneers Fairport Convention and Martin Carthy are two of the influences Mitchell and her musical partner, Jefferson Hamer, called upon when creating their new album, "Child Ballads."
"I love the language of those songs," said Mitchell. "It's English, but it has images and phrases that are universal, that send chill[s] down [the] spine and [emit] little echoes from the past and into the future."
It seems natural that stories, such as those in British folk tales, would ring true with Mitchell. The daughter of a novelist, Mitchell made her name as a compelling songwriter whose vivid portrayals have attracted an ardent fan base, including artists such as mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, a guest on her last album, "Young Man in America." Although her songs read almost as short stories, it has been her hope that listeners experience them emotionally as well as intellectually.
|Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer|
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"There certainly are characters, just as there are characters in a book of short stories," she said when discussing "Young Man in America." "Writing [songs such as those and touring behind them] is really fun for me, but just because there are characters speaking doesn't take them further away from the heart."
The same is true for the tunes on "Child Ballads," which presented a challenge for the artists.
"These stories are so fantastic, and we wanted people to be able to follow the thread," Mitchell told USA Today. "We didn't want to throw up roadblocks by using the most archaic language in the ballads. They're beautiful and unusual because they're exotic in that way, so we didn't want to water down their poetry."
The two artists basically approached the songs in several ways, including the use of original source material for some but experimenting with arrangements and interpretation to give the songs a more contemporary sound.
In their version of "Tam Lin," one of the most beloved songs in Fairport Convention's catalog, the artists did away with a subnarrative about dark magic in the song about ill-fated lovers.
"We felt like the changing, this becoming of wild beasts during which she has to hold on to him, could function as a metaphor for standing by your lover through difficult times," Hamer told USA Today. "Even though someone may become a whole different person, at the end you can have a good person to be with, a father for your child -- a non-werewolf lover."