Cowboy Junkies & Anaïs Mitchell @ Ram's Head Tavern, Washington DC - February 29, 2012.
I have seen Vermont's Anaïs Mitchell do an opening solo set for Ani DiFranco once before in addition to favorably reviewing some of Mitchell's albums for Folkworld. Although she is touring with a band, she took a day off to do another solo opening set for yet another great headlining act.
Not a bad move, as Anaïs Mitchell has the qualities to be a major act so long as she can play her songs to as many people as possible. And she had a full house tonight. The crowd easily enjoyed Mitchell's quality songs and straight forward approach.
Her finger picked guitar work is not extraordinary, but it is good and emotive enough to deliver the songs. Her vocals evoke that of a savvy childlike intellect. The best thing about tonight's set was its building intensity toward the final two songs from her 'folk opera', Orpheus. I will certainly need to see her with a full band setting next time around.
While I have long been interested in this band, it has only been in recent years where I have become a big fan. I have been fortunate to have been selected to review the first three albums of their recent Nomad series where they have released four albums in an 18-month time-frame.
I think that their alt country label kept me away from them early on, and frankly I do not think this label is terribly appropriate for their mix of folk, rock, blues, psyche, drone and alright, perhaps a hint of country. They played some older material with a solid seven song 'set within a set' of songs from all of the Nomad series albums. I really enjoyed the newer material more than the old, although all of it was excellent.
They did some oddball requests that they received on the internet and one song suggested just for the show was a bit long and less interesting--"we're not even half way through the song" quipped vocalist Margo Timmins as she was failing to keep a straight face at times during this song (I think it was "Oregon Hill").
Her brothers were there on guitar and drums along with a long-time member on harmonica, percussion and mandolin. They had a keyboardist and bass player with them as well. The guitar work is quite tasty with lots of psyche and drone qualities that offset the gorgeous vocals and quiet instrumentation.
But the star of the show for me were those insanely psychedelic mandolin solos. I am not sure I have seen and heard a mandolin quite like this before, although I have seen a couple of creative players in the past.
Great sounds amid excellent songs. I hope their older fans are staying with this band as they continue to add subtle layers to their sound. I am a newer fan and am quite happy to have this extraordinary Toronto band (yes, there again) around.
First published @ dcrocklive.blogspot.com.
Photo Credits: (1) Anaïs Mitchell, (2) Cowboy Junkies (unknown).