Francis Child's 19th-century collection of British ballads that crossed the seas to the US is a cornerstone of folk music. Fairport Convention, Fleet Foxes and the Decemberists have sung them, but here they've been reimagined as material for a duo. Anaïs Mitchell is a rising crossover star; Bon Iver adores her, and her last two ambitious albums (2010's Hadestown and 2012's Young Man in America) tackled American social issues with the blue-collar clout of Springsteen. Together with Brooklyn's Jefferson Hamer, she has spent two years reimagining these ancient stories, changing lyrics and melodies, but the efforts swamp these songs. These ballads in the raw are rough, tragic things – Geordie is hung for his crimes, there's a drowning in Clyde Waters – that lose their impact when pretty harmonies smother them. Mitchell's bright, cute voice and the pair's shiny guitar playing also feels too exquisite and overproduced, more about style and sound than the timeless material.
Jude Rogers is a journalist, interviewer, arts critic and broadcaster.