The Mindful Bard – Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Ries, Country E.P.

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

CD: Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Ries, Country E.P.

Release date: September 2008

Label: Righteous Babe Records

?Autumn’s ashes, summer’s embers on the sidewalk come September?
Suddenly I can’t remember any lessons learned.
Now that I’m a migrant picker,
Trouble-minded tin can kicker,
I wish my skin was thicker . . .?

?Come September,? by Anaïs Mitchell

The Homespun Poet Sisters of Mountain Soul

This is music that memorializes that green, fragrant, mossy twilight time when American hill folk were still singing their Celtic ballads while slowly creating amazing new genres and themes all their own.

The inspirational quality of this era in music history is all but immortal, sleeping between the ages in wait for clever minds and ardent hearts to revive it again and again.

Here in Country E.P. we have a shining paragon:

Anaïs Mitchell’s baby-doll voice and Rachel’s superbly trained singing go together like beans and corn, tinkling mandolins and sawing fiddles a poignant backdrop to songs exploring the personal transformations that arrive in the wake of romance troubles.

The CD package comes with an EP record whose cover exhibits two art deco style frames with sepia portraits of Anaïs and Rachel.

It’s reminiscent of sheet music from the early part of the 20th century, or parlour portraits of grannies and maiden aunts.

Rachel Ries had classical training in singing, piano, viola, and violin and has been known to record on vintage mikes to get that old gritty sound.

Anaïs is known for her beautifully conceived lyric lines and insights into both individual personhood and the human condition.

She was signed to Righteous Babe Records by Ani DiFranco, a move that knocked the sandals off a young girl who had long seen DiFranco as an artistic mentor.

Both women have travelled extensively and lived in foreign lands. (Is this what it takes to embrace American root genres?) They both fail to take themselves seriously, so it all sounds playful and whimsical in spite of being extremely intelligent.

Each woman wrote two songs on the EP. They are both writing in older styles (which seems to be becoming quite the vogue) and yet the poetry of their lyrics is strikingly original. Both are inventive and literary songwriters.

Have a real good listen to these lyrics and the intuitively correct instrumentation that accompanies them; you’ll feel all your old heartaches coming back sanctified and holy.

Anaïs Mitchell recently collaborated on the writing of Hadestown, a folk opera to be released on CD later this year. Watch The Voice for a review of this recording and for an interview with Anaïs.

The uniqueness of these songs, plus the great blessing of hearing intelligent (but not dry and academic) country music, makes this EP a treasure. Here the common shows itself precious and beautiful; our everyday heartaches are lifted up, crowned with dignity, and eternalized in song.

Country E.P. manifests seven of The Mindful Bard’s criteria for music well worth a listen: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it makes me want to be a better artist; 3) it gives me tools which help me be a better artist; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it is about attainment of the true self; and 7) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour.

This music was recommended to The Mindful Bard by singer-songwriter Jonathan Byrd.

The Bard could use some help scouting out new material. If you discover any books, compact disks, or movies which came out in the last twelve months and which you think fit the Bard’s criteria, please drop a line to bard@voicemagazine.org. For a list of criteria, go here. If I agree with your recommendation, I’ll thank you online.

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