Yesterday I received an e-mail from fiddler Rayna Gellert, late of Uncle Earl, as I’m on her mailing list. In it, she mentions the duo of Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer, and I followed the link she supplied and discovered to my wonder and delight that they’ve recorded an album of classic Child Ballads.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Child Ballads, they’re a collection of 305 ballads from England, Scotland and their American variants, collected by Francis James Child in the late Nineteenth Century. Many of them have traditional tunes, but some have been lost or morphed over the years, as is the nature of traditional songs. One of the songs on this album, Tam Lin, was made famous by Fairport Convention on their Liege & Leaf album in 1969.
I’ve been a fan of the ballads for years, and have always appreciated artists who dig into the catalog, such as it were. Listening to the video below, my jaw dropped and I immediately looked up more, and then went to Spotify where I found the album, Child Ballads.
Mitchell, considered by many to be the Queen of Modern Folk, and Hamer, a Brooklyn singer/songwriter I’ve learned about over the past few months, weave seven of the ballads in gorgeous harmony, their guitars picking out the lively tunes at a bouncing gait in places. The songs are not usually happy in their endings as is often the case with traditional songs — especially those of the Child collection — but the words are just strung together so perfectly that I’m willing to lose myself in each song’s tale.
This is, simply put, the most beautiful music I’ve heard in years. And sadly, they just played in New York City last weekend! It may be a while before they come around again, as Anais is pregnant and due in the summer, but I have made a point of following each of them on Facebook, so I can keep up with local appearances.
I’ll be buying this album tonight or tomorrow morning. I suspect heavy rotation in foreseeable future.