Anais Mitchell and Mike Merenda, Club Passim, January 5, 2007
Anais Mitchell took the Club Passim stage with hair freshly cut at Cambridge’s Judy Jetson salon and polled the crowd as to whether it was okay to switch hairdressers within the same establishment. But once the Vermont-based singer-songwriter got going with the disarmingly sweet “Your Fonder Heart,” her blond bob didn’t distract from the simple splendor of her songs. Mitchell, who has a new album due at the end of February on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe label, combines the best of classic female folksingers like Joni no-relation Mitchell with the precocious spirit of neo-psych phenom Joanna Newsom. Beginning with an excerpt from her adventurous folk opera Hadestown, she peppered her set with tracks from the forthcoming The Brightness as well as some old favorites and a cover of “Born To Run.” The sound system spat a few subtle speaker pops that resounded like a needle riding through the groove; it gave her performance a warm, classic feel.
Mike Merenda of the NYC folk-rock band the Mammals was joined by his new wife, Mammals fiddler Ruth Ungar Merenda; he also had a kick drum to accompany him. Although Mike was in theory there to support his new solo album, Quiver (Humble Abode), the duo focused on tracks from an album they’d recorded just the week before called The Honeymoon Agenda. Merenda’s solo efforts are often politically charged, but in this set, romance trumped politics. He opened with “The Diamond Ring Rag,” a song written to see whether Ruth could play certain fingerings on her fiddle wearing said ring. The two traded vocal duties in a cover-laden set that included songs by Feist, Bob Dylan, Aaron Ross, Tom Waits, and Etta James as well as a striking version of the Velvets’ “I’ll Be Your Mirror.” Merenda closed with Dylan’s “Desolation Row,” nailing every verse in the epic tune, and the duo encored with “Haircut Money” from the first Mammals disc — a fitting end to a night that began with a discussion of salon etiquette.
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