Album review: "Young Man in America"
By - Geoffrey Himes
Friday, Mar. 2, 2012
Anais Mitchell has tried to distance herself from her early career as a folkie singer-songwriter and has done so with ornate song suites spiced with ambitious chamber-pop arrangements.
On her new album, she sings a fabulist's biography of a "Young Man in America," with the help of jazz musicians such as violinist Jenny Scheinman and the Punch Brothers' Chris Thile.
The album begins with an eight-minute medley of "Wilderland/Young Man" with Mitchell singing as the album's title character, a 20-something guy chasing sex, money, status and intoxication without satisfaction. But the cryptic, haphazardly rhymed lyrics and the sudden swings between rock shouting and lullaby crooning give the listener's ear little to hang onto.
Much better are songs such as "Shepherd," which sounds like an 18th-century ballad about peasant tragedy, or "Ships," a tale of a woman waiting for her man to return from sea.
Even pop-rock songs such as "Venus" and "Annmarie" benefit from the steady rhythms, repeating phrases, strong rhymes and catchy hooks.
Best of all is "Tailor," where Mitchell's girlish soprano and pretty acoustic guitar echo old songs such as "I Gave My Love a Cherry." Working within that sturdy folk architecture, the song's wholly original chorus distinguishes her far better than her art-rock contraptions.