Anais Mitchell - Young Man in America

Young Man in America, the latest release by folk wunderkind Anais Mitchell, comes to me a week after I’ve turned twenty-one, and it couldn’t be better timed. I admit to feeling uniquely qualified to discuss this record, as I’m still trying to fit into the snug shoes of the titular young man in America that Anais is singing about here. It’s a transition into adulthood that’s as freeing and untethered as it is absolutely horrifying and migraine-inducing. So perhaps the best thing I can say about this wonderful, wonderful record is that, at a time where I don’t fully understand myself or most of the things I’m going through, I listen to Anais sing on the title track, a line like, “A wayward son waiting on oblivion/waiting on kingdom come to meet me in my sin,” and I find the most important kind of comfort there, the kind that only music can give us.

I’ve been a fan of Anais Mitchell’s since I was fifteen (eek!), and I never cease to be amazed at each new release. I remember seeing her open for Dar Williams a hundred years ago, and buying a copy of Hymns for the Exiled, Mitchell’s first record. I played songs like “1984” and “Cosmic American” until I could conduct them myself, if need be. Then came The Brightness in 2007, and I fell in love with her all over again. In 2010, Mitchell released her epic folk opera Hadestown—with A-list guests like Ani Difranco and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver—which seemed to expose her music to many people that hadn’t heard it before. I recap the last few records for a reason, and that is this: Though I love each of these past releases fiercely, and hold them so close in my heart for the great work they did for me as a teenager, I’ve never been a bigger fan of Anais Mitchell than I am right now, with Young Man in America. Her capacity for mercy in her songwriting, coupled with her unrivaled insight into the human condition, makes Anais Mitchell one of the finest songwriters, period.

This is a wonderful record, and I lay no claim to being able to articulate its beauty, its importance. These songs will knock you flat on your ass, how’s that? There is no standout track— this is a standout record. Mitchell has kept alive that flickering flame of the troubadour spirit first given us by songwriters like Dylan and Cohen, and rearranged it to fit her own perspective. And we all ought to be very, very grateful for that.

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