Soundbites: New Music From Anaïs Mitchell; Kat Wright Gets Back to Basics | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Music » Music News + Views

Soundbites: New Music From Anaïs Mitchell; Kat Wright Gets Back to Basics

By

Published February 2, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Anaïs Mitchell - COURTESY OF JAY SANSONE
  • Courtesy Of Jay Sansone
  • Anaïs Mitchell

It's been a long and winding decade for Anaïs Mitchell. The singer-songwriter and Vermont native went from playing folk music in coffeehouses to winning Grammys and Tony Awards for her acclaimed Broadway production, Hadestown. In that time, she and her husband, Noah Hahn (Atom & the Orbits), relocated to New York City and started a family.

Then the pandemic hit, Broadway closed, and a growing desire to return home inspired Mitchell and her family to pack up and leave NYC. They arrived in Vermont last year, just in time for Mitchell to give birth to her second daughter, Rosetta.

Last week, Mitchell released a new, self-titled solo record, her first in 10 years, produced by Josh Kaufman, her bandmate in Bonny Light Horseman. From the country-folk of "Little Big Girl," a song about being an adult still racked by childhood insecurities, to "Revenant," which finds Mitchell looking back on childhood diary entries and feeling a swell of love for her past self, the new album is her own story.

"It was a total surprise to me to look back at this batch of songs and realize that in all of them, the speaker is me," Mitchell wrote by email to Seven Days. "That was something, for whatever reason, that I had shied away from before."

With Hadestown and her last solo LP in 2012, Young Man in America, Mitchell delved into the lives of others — Greek mythology, politics, climate change, anything but songs about herself. The ensuing success of Hadestown made slipping back into that singer-songwriter mode difficult.

"For a long time I was just too obsessed with Hadestown to really work on other creative stuff," she admitted. "When it opened on Broadway, I thought I'd just hole up and write a ton of songwriter songs. But it didn't really come."

Once she was back in Vermont and living in her grandparents' old house, the tap opened again. Mitchell found herself writing a record of deep reflection, the kind of music that comes from returning home after years away. As she settled with her family in an old farmhouse, now an adult full of accomplishments both personal and professional, time began to swirl in Mitchell's mind. She realized that the new album was essentially about growing up.

"It's looking back," she explained. "Looking back at my childhood and my young and hustling days, while also locating where I am now: I have two kids, I'm a bonafide [sic] grown-up."

She hopes the songs reach listeners who might be grappling with a similar dichotomy of youth and adulthood.

Mitchell's first 10 shows of 2022 were canceled due to COVID-19, but she's slated to hit the Flynn Main Stage on Saturday, February 19. She'll be playing her new music, as well as performing with her folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman, which includes Fruit Bats' Eric D. Johnson. Mitchell writes that the show will feel like "a miracle" after all the pandemic tribulations.

"Soul connection," the singer-songwriter proclaimed. "That's the goal for everyone at the show. We all deserve it!"

What's New, Kat?

Kat Wright - COURTESY OF ARIELLE THOMAS
  • Courtesy Of Arielle Thomas
  • Kat Wright

Kat Wright's show at the Double E Performance Center at the Essex Experience this Saturday, February 5, will mark a turning point of sorts for the singer.

Wright gained local and regional popularity over the last decade, fronting the massive Kat Wright & the Indomitable Soul Band, the project born from her weekly Soul Sessions residency at the Radio Bean in Burlington.

"It's funny," Wright said in a conversation over Zoom, "but the whole big band thing was a total accident. I never set out to orchestrate that."

Wright first came to Burlington in 2010 as one-half of a folk duo called Loveful Heights with her childhood best friend, Maggie Clifford. After she set roots down in the city, Wright's then-husband, Radio Bean owner Lee Anderson, offered her the Thursday residency.

"I wanted to try something I hadn't done before, so we started talking about American soul music being the focus," she said. "It just snowballed from there."

Soul Sessions was an immediate success. Invitations to play weddings and parties followed, which led to more gigs, then tours. Suddenly, Wright was fronting an eight-piece machine.

"It was a little weird for me, because I got absorbed into being this front woman yelling, 'How y'all feeling out there?' to crowds — but that isn't really who I am," she admitted. "I leaned into it because I could sing like that and I'm confident enough to have stage presence. But, honestly, if you and I were at a party right now, we'd be in the corner talking about our grandmothers for two hours."

Wright needed a change, so when popular Americana act the Wood Brothers asked her to support them again on tour last fall, she took her opportunity.

The band initially invited her as a solo artist or duo, but Wright demurred. With her bandmates Bob Wagner (guitar) and Josh Weinstein (bass) in mind, she replied, "How about a trio?"

The new, leaner sound — focused on harmonies and "sad-girl folk," as Wright described it with a laugh — was an instant hit with her audience.

"Our fans loved it right away," Wright said. "But I could tell it would work when we played for a roomful of people who had no idea who we were. If you can walk into a packed theater in Seattle and have the whole room silent while they listen, something is working."

The next step is to combine the two approaches into what Wright believes will be the perfect form for her band. She plans to go full band again, with drums and maybe a special guest or two, but nothing like the packed stage and blasting horn section of the past. She'll test out the new lineup at the Double E with some of Vermont's best musicians as guest stars.

Pappy Biondo on banjo and pedal steel, Zach Dupont and Brett Hughes on guitar, and neo-soul duo Dwight + Nicole will join her band. She calls it a "musical family reunion."

The show will also be the only opportunity to purchase Wright's latest EP, Trio Sessions Volume 2, a stripped-down, demo-like affair. One day, she and the band will rerecord it in a more professional, slick manner, but for now the record is a bonus to fans who come to the show.

Another highlight of the Essex show will be the debut of the band's new video for the song "Take Me With You."

Wright and Wagner wrote the tune after spending time at the Bread and Puppet Theater in West Glover last summer. A song that Wright says is "about running away with the circus" came out of it, which gave her an idea. Compiling hours and hours of '80s and '90s archival footage of the theater that she found, mostly on VHS tapes, Wright crafted the video.

She completed it at roughly the same time that Bread and Puppet cofounder Elka Schumann died in August. So Wright held off on releasing it until now.

"I didn't want to distract from necessary grief," she said. "It didn't feel like the right time. But now I get to see it debut on a big screen, which is so cool."

Oh, It's Real

Welcome to Oh, It's Real, the weekly reminder that there is shit out there you won't believe — unless we tell you about it. This week's installment brings us back to the halcyon days of hair metal and the Bermuda Triangle that was Philadelphia in 1983.

Not yet ready for the big time and before they dropped hits such as "Nobody's Fool" and "Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)," Pennsylvania's own Cinderella did their buddy Pat a solid and made a jingle for Pat's Chili Dogs. Featuring lyrics as metal as "Two locations, rockin' all night / MacDade or Lester, come and have a bite," the jingle and its accompanying video/commercial aired locally on ESPN and MTV. In a YouTube description, the commercial's director recalled that the shoot was largely "smooth sailing" but the band had to be coaxed out of the bathroom first. They were, um, "putting on makeup."

Hopefully it didn't affect their appetite — those chili dogs actually look kind of good. See for yourself. The commercial is on YouTube.