Every lump inside your throat…

Another lovely evening recedes into the distance…

Anaïs Mitchell

I’ve said this before, but I really like St Bonaventure’s.

I like the way it has no pretensions, resembling a community centre as it does. I like the way it has plastic chairs (and not that many of them – “intimate” doesn’t really do it justice) and signs asking people not to rearrange them. And I have nothing but admiration for the staff who manage to book brilliant acts in these surroundings purely on the basis of their sterling reputation.

It’s only been the last three months or so that I’ve cottoned on to Anaïs Mitchell and her brilliant songs. Young Man in America is a high, high-quality record, full of clever songs that demand thought and attention, and which will be in my Lucky Seven for 2012 undoubtedly. Hymns for the Exiled is made of similarly fine stuff, and on this evening I bought a copy of Hadestown which it turns out … is just magnificent.

Sidling apologetically on “stage”, she chatted disarmingly with the audience from the start and fitted well into what is obviously the St Bonaventure’s style of artist-  unassuming, country-based and, above all, gifted. Backed by the Young Man Band, Rachel Ries on keyboards, Benjamin Davis on percussion, guitar, glockenspiel and banjo (oh yes!) and husband Noah Hahn on fretless bass, she came up with one of the best evenings I’ve seen for ages. We got a good selection from Young Man and Hymns and enough from Hadestown to get me interested enough to buy it from her at the end (autographed indeed – thanks, Marcus!).

I love her voice and playing but her song writing is just so interesting. I like the way she writes as different people – young men, middle-aged women, figures from mythology – without at any point lapsing into novelty pieces, and at all times managing to be convincing. She’s a very intelligent woman, whose records we’ll be listening to for a good few years, I imagine.

Benjamin Davis is an extraordinary feller, too. Frequently it was hard to take your eyes of him as he switched between drum and string duties mid-song (mid-verse, at times). I am, of course, a real sucker for the banjo, and when played with the precision and lightness of touch that Davis managed, it really is the instrument of the gods. In truth, he was close to stealing the show at times, but operated with some discipline and self restraint at all times.

On top of that, it became obvious when Mitchell dueted with her on “Oh My Star” that Rachel Ries is no slouch herself, playing and singing beautifully when the song demanded. There is, apparently, an EP the pair have recorded called the Country EP, and I’m guessing it’s well worth finding…

It’s a rare thing to see such a talented group of artists enjoying their evening and performing such premium fare, and to do so in such relaxed intimate surroundings. Mmmm…

I recorded the set, and I think it’s come out pretty well, with some real highlights below…

Wilderland / Young Man in America

Oh My Star

Why Do We Build the Wall?

You Are Forgiven

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