Anais Mitchell plays folk and country-tinged rock songs. All the idioms of roots music — big Wild-West atmosphere, traditional song structure, creaky fiddle, mandolin and percussion evocative of Native American sound — are present and accounted for in her work.
But Mitchell writes country songs the way the Coen Brothers make Westerns. Underneath it all is an uneasiness, a thoroughly modern angst that puts Mitchell’s sound squarely in the now. Her voice lives somewhere between Alison Krauss’s soaring harmonies, Lucinda Williams’ whiskey and cigarettes, and the ethereal woo-woo of Joanna Newsom.
The honesty and bluntness with which she sings “My mama gave a mighty shout/Opened her legs and let me out,” on the title track of her latest release Young Man in America, would make Sheryl Crow at her most “working class” blush.
This is cinematic music conjuring blue-collar images of truck stops, big open landscapes and late nights at the bar. Sometimes the music drowns under the weight of its own folk-rock same-same-ness (we’ve all heard Gillian Welch by now), but other times it boldly and confidently genre-hops. “Venus” is a tight and breezy pop song, “Coming Down” is brutally simple and beautifully sad, and if you tell me you expected the dirge-like clarinet and horn break in “Young Man in America,” I’ll call you a liar.
Anais Mitchell plays 3:30 pm Sunday, April 1, at Skip’s Records and CD World, free; and 8 pm Sunday, April 1, at Cozmic, $8.