This Album Changed My Life: Anais Mitchell – Hadestown (2010)

Limerick singer-songwriter Emma Langford on a folk opera centring on Greek myths

I remember my dad driving me home late at night in 2015, before my career had really kicked off. We were listening to Carl Corcoran’s Blue of the Night, and down the airwaves came three voices in tight, weird harmony.

“Why the struggle, why the strain? Why make trouble? Why make scenes?”

Chances are it was after a long day, so something in the lyrics resonated with me. I love vocal harmonies, but this was strange and spiky and it took a shortcut past my ears, veering straight through my eyeballs and into my bones.

That was my introduction to Anaiis Mitchell's Hadestown – a folk opera centring on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Told through songs penned by Mitchell, featuring Greg Bear, the Haden Triplets, Ani DiFranco, Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver, and Mitchell herself – it packs a punch, in terms of cast and quality. I didn't know folk could sound like this. Having grown up on a diet of musicals, the theatricality of it all struck a chord, so to speak (sorry).


In times of stress, it pulls me into another place and time entirely. But the songs hold modern currency too – Hades’ rallying cry “Why We Build the Wall” being a strong example.

Mitchell’s Hadestown taught me a lot about the craft of storytelling, putting heart into a song that isn’t about your own heart, and how songs can be bigger than the artist that wrote them. The album changed how I thought about songwriting, and challenged my perceptions of what a folk album could be.

In conversation with Niall Byrne