Anaïs Mitchell is a bundle of contradictions. She has the earthiness of Shawn Colvin, the child-like bite of Joanna Newsom, and the urban jumpiness of Ani DiFranco. Her lyrics are sprinkled with rosy similes ("you roll like the rolling waters/you rise like the bright morning stars") while they simultaneously touch on everything from politics ("Hobo's Lullaby") to literature ("Namesake," a reference to Mitchell's namesake, Anais Nin) to mythology ("Hades & Persephone"). These elements, as disparate as they might seem, come together as nicely as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and from the sound of it Mitchell is poised to live up to her new record label, Righteous Babe, on The Brightness. This is a decidedly, ahem, brighter album than her previous effort, opening with a joyful summons ("Come out, come on, come outside"). The Brightness finds Mitchell with a newfound confidence. Not that she skirts pain or sadness on this outing; songs like "Of a Friday Night," a meditation on a departed poet, and "Shenandoah," a ballad about the loss of a friend, dip into isolation and loss. On Hymns for the Exiled, Mitchell might have approached these songs with a helping of self-consciousness and timidity, but on The Brightness they're approached with a kind of sympathetic energy that lifts them nearly to the level of exaltation. This is, granted, incredibly earnest music, but it's hard to hold that against Mitchell given how well she writes, how honest she is, and how far she's come in such a short period of time.
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AllMusic Review by Margaret Reges