BY JAMES MOORE
Not since Bob Dylan’s early years has a 23-year-old songwriter had suchpower and meaning. — Jonathon Byrd
Sometimes good things come to those who wade till the last minute,hip-hugging rubber boots and all. “Procrastination,” some wouldsay, though they’d only be telling half truths, so de rigueur these days.Actually, “half” would be giving the benefit of considerable doubtto the top rungs of the ladder, but alas I digress.
Sometimes one stumbles upon kryptonite in the most offhanded sortof ways. And what, pray tell, could be better? God knows, this devout fascinationwith all things offhanded has been very good to me, a burning St. John ofthe Cross where one’s favorite pastime intersects one’s sweetestobsession and, if you’re lucky, you find yourself nailed to the arcof Noah’s covenant flooded in holy relish, heart moonwalking on tiptoeswith Risky Business abandon and a chorus of angels singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” chorus.
(For the record, I’m floating on Cloud Nine these days, working withRoland Wells and Steve Cooperman on KRUU, Fairfield’s brand new listener-supported,volunteer-operated low-power FM radio station. What could be better? We’regoing on air September 30th at high noon. 100.1 FM: a mix of music, talk,public affairs, news, and more [www.kruufm.com]. You know what they say: toair is human, to broadcast divine. We now return to our regularly scheduledprogram.)
Sometimes you just have to say what you mean.
What I’m talking about is a woman named Anaïs. Not AnaïsNin. Singer/ songwriter Anaïs Mitchell. Did she appropriate that monikerfor stage purposes? Nope, says Steve Jacomini, owner of Fairfield’sCafé Paradiso, her mama done bestowed it upon her at birth. She hailsfrom the “independent republic of Vermont,” as Mitchell callsit, that northeastern bastion of free-spirited thinkers where the term “liberal” isnot a disparaged or discouraged word, but an exalted expression of an inclusiveway of life that incorporates alternative solutions into the so-called realworld.
Remember McCartney’s second solo album called Ram? Well, Anaïsactually grew up on a sheep farm in a rural setting that now comprises “65ewes, 2 lucky rams,” she says with a laugh, “and 120 little lambsgamboling around in the field.” Raised by a novelist, with a communityorganizer with Harper’s Magazine in the house, she headed to Bostonat 18, moving on to greener pastures in Austin two years later, where herfirst album, the deliciously titled The Song They SangWhen Rome Fell, wasborn.
Jacomini recorded her first performance in Iowa, a co-billing with RachelReis, which I insist on hearing when he says he can’t stop listeningto it. I reserve judgment—but the reserved judge is slain within thefirst few bars of her opening number’s sparse literate finger-styleguitar picking, its stark soulfulness creating a feather bed for the vocals.
A voice with the auric Jones of Ani DiFranco, the self-assuredness of a willowtree, and lyric poetic flourishes that Dylan and his namesake would both raisetheir glasses to, I am immediately transfixed. “I’m lip stuckand liquored up,” she sings, and then, “The morning deliveries,the news to my door of my president’s war in the east, but . . . I don’tknow who’s in the belly and who is the beast.” She weaves thePolitical and the Personal so intimately together that it’s hard totell where one begins and the other ends, not unlike life itself.
People mostly keep these areas roped off from each other, much like the “freespeech pens” the president graciously sets up when he makes public campaignappearances in order to give Americans who disagree with his point of viewa chance to express their opinions—albeit well out of sight.
Mitchell is a poet of deep sinews and deft power, with a sensual essencethat seeks to heal and reconcile, or at least acknowledge the restricted,shadowed, forsaken places. In the turn of a phrase, a reflection becomes arevelation, a simple act a moral stand, the personal universal. Highly respectedin singer/songwriter circles, she possesses that unmistakable, indefinable “it” factorto the nth degree. When she mentions one of her songs being inspired by LawrenceDurrell’s brilliant masterpiece, The AlexandriaQuartet (four booksthat tell the same story from four characters’ points of view) I’mlike, “aw yeah.” I dare you to read those books and not explode.
In 2003, the Kerrville Folk Festival, North America’s longest continuouslyrunning music festival of its kind, honored her work with the prestigiousNew Folk award. Her second release, Hymns for the Exiled, came out in 2004.A graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, with a degree in political science,Mitchell has spent extensive time in Europe, Latin America, Egypt, and theMiddle East studying languages (Spanish, German, and Arabic) and world politics.
I find my hairs’ ends saluting at regular intervals listening to AnaïsMitchell perform. She has a little girl sort of speaking voice, but a depthof field that is resounding in its social/cultural/international grasp. Whetherit’s a song written from the perspective of a middle-aged Egyptian womanattempting to return to her home in Palestine, or one about her grandmother’sdress, her intimate, engaging portraits jump out of the frame. Suffice itto say, she puts the telling in storytelling and does it both buoyantly anddeeply centered.
Let those who have ears, hear: Anaïs is the real deal. Come and seeher when she returns to Café Paradiso on Friday, September 22, at 8p.m. She’ll be performing with singer/songwriter Danny Schmidt. (Ona completely unrelated note, I would love to see her do a duet with Ian Mooresometime.)
Anais Mitchell joins Geoff Muldaur and Sharon Bousquet for the Annual HarvestMoon Festival, Sept. 21-23, at Cafe Paradiso in Fairfield: www.cafeparadiso.net.
DJ Logic on Turntables
New from ropeadope records—DJ Logic’s Zenof Logic, and it isa fine assortment of scratch-and-sniff funk’n’wag tail music.Ever since I heard him throw down his stuff with Medeski, Martin and Wood,I’ve been hooked. He answers Jazz Weekly Editor in Chief Fred Jung’squestion whether he considers turntables to be his instrument:
DJ LOGIC: Yes, because of the sounds and things that coming out of my instrument—justlike any other instrument, just like a guitar. I mean, I have to tune my turntablejust like a guitar. I have to make sure the sounds on records are in tunewith the musicians as I hear it and as the musicians hear it. I just findsomething to interact with or just stir up some type of stew. Basically, adda little salt and pepper here and there.
FJ: What are you spinning now?
DJ LOGIC: I’m checking out this new group called New Deal that is great.Some Miles, some Don Cherry, and some acid jazz groove stuff that I pick upat different places I go to.
Don Cherry, eh? All I know is the new record is evocative, deep beaten, andfull bodied. DJ Logic has a way of making those turntables cry out in a primalway that is haunting and elevating at the same time.