Bonny Light Horseman
When accomplished artists who’ve spent years developing their careers come together in a collective it’s usually considered a one-off side project, a momentary collaboration before they get back to their main gigs. But it was immediately clear that something was different when Bonny Light Horsemen dropped its first album in 2020. Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats, singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, and multi-instrumentalist producer Josh Kaufman got together for a low-stakes meeting, but that eponymous recording quickly proved that the trio had legs, conflating an array of sounds and tropes from U.S. and U.K. folk traditions into a meticulously pitched folk-rock collection that simultaneously felt ancient and utterly fresh.
Writing in Pitchfork, Grayson Haver Currin said, “The trio has more reverence for the flexibility of the oral tradition than the songs it has produced. They splice together bits of old numbers into new ones, drop or add verses, and relocate antediluvian sagas into Stateside settings. The tune that gave the trio their name, for instance, is a lover’s lament for a dead soldier, killed during the Napoleonic Wars.” Johnson and Mitchell are both superb singers, with a predilection for honeyed evocations of classic melodic shapes. They harmonize like lost siblings.
While the group’s stunning debut was assembled with an extended cast of guests, as the project found its practical bearings—its artistic ones were clearly in place—the equally powerful follow-up Rolling Golden Holy coalesced around drummer JT Bates and bassist/saxophonist Mike Lewis. There’s no missing the heightened cohesion on the new songs, plying gauzy, simmering layers of guitars, banjos, and piano over the loosely swinging rhythms. But when Johnson and Mitchell conjure the harmonies of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks you might not notice.