Anaïs Mitchell has a knack for mythology that flies over the heads of most modern songwriters. From her adaptation of the Orpheus myth on Hadestown — an arresting "folk opera" wherein Orpheus and Eurydice struggle through a post-apocalyptic economic depression — to the nuanced interweaving of Biblical and Greek mythology in last year's Young Man in America, she's proven adept at mingling the ancient and the contemporary.
Now she and singer-songwriter Jefferson Hamer (whose solo work leaps back and forth between the traditions of Appalachia and ancient Ireland) have recorded a seven-song disc, Child Ballads, which includes some of the most studied and recorded ballads in folk music history. "Tam Lin" is based on an old Scottish myth about a man captured by fairies, whose only hope at returning to life among humans is to have his lover hold him through a series of transformations (wolf, bear, lion, man). It's a fitting song to represent the entire collection, as Mitchell and Hamer have done just that — they've held these old songs tightly, faithfully, transforming them in such a way that you might think they fashioned the stories themselves.
(Recorded at the 2013 Folk Alliance International Conference in Toronto in February.)