Hadestown by Anaïs Mitchell (2010)
Joshua Chong, Senior Arts & Culture Editor
American folk singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell wrote “Why We Build the Wall” nearly a decade before Donald Trump took office and promised to erect a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But this song of hers– sung by the tyrannical dictator of the underworld Hades – eerily echoes and reflects the sentiments of the current occupant of the White House. It’s also one of twenty eclectic songs that comprise Mitchell’s concept album Hadestown, which tells the story of a pair of famous Ancient Greek myths: Orpheus and Eurydice, and Hades and Persephone. If you’ve heard of Hadestown before, you’re probably thinking of the musical, which is based on this album and garnered Mitchell a Tony Award for Best Score. Though the Broadway cast recording offers additional songs and a more fleshed out storyline, this original album has a gritty vitality and an organic quality that is reminiscent of the sounds that billow out of New Orleans’s Preservation Hall.
The Stranger by Billy Joel (1977)
“Slow down, you crazy child.” – Song No. 5, Vienna, The Stranger
It feels like Billy Joel is speaking directly to us in his album The Stranger, released in 1977 amidst a pop revolution. The lyrics and narrative of the album embody Joel’s own hallmarks: brutal honesty and an unflinching vulnerability. While “Vienna” (No. 5) marks Joel’s eye-opening and emotional visit to his father in Austria, “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” (No. 4) is a seven-minute up-tempo musical rollercoaster that tells the story of a couple’s reunion and amicable parting in three parts: a melodic piano ballad, jazz melody, and a rock-and-roll piece, with an unmissable grandiose string section punctuating the song’s final transition.
All nine tracks of The Stranger sit at the rare intersections of commercial triumph and artistic geniusness; its realizations are wonderfully relevant, especially today, almost four decades after its initial release. This album is a perfect introduction to the soul of the legend that is Billy Joel.