Review: Bonny Light Horseman Returns with a Second Dose of ‘Rolling Golden Holy’ Folk

Bonny Light Horseman
Rolling Golden Holy
(37d03d Records)
4 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

It’s adventure music and it’s elastic and it pays no mind as it jumps out of the speakers. Those are the words of Josh Kaufman, one of three members of Bonny Light Horseman, explaining the song “Sweetbread” from the band’s second collection.

But it could just as well describe all the music crafted by him and his partners. Kaufman, along with Anais Mitchell and Eric D. Johnson (aka Fruit Bats), has returned after two years to expand the outfit’s folkie approach, albeit one with a modern spin.

This follow-up to the trio’s 2020 somewhat surprisingly successful debut however takes a different direction. Where their first release revamped traditional tunes, some centuries old, by bringing a fresh, contemporary perspective, the threesome now sticks to all original material. While that’s a major shift in focus, musically they retain the same spirited vocal and instrumental interaction that made the initial BLH disc so immediately accessible even, perhaps especially, to those who had no knowledge of the initial arrangements of those songs.  

These new tunes lean more toward the pop side of the equation but maintain a connection to the rustic nature that initially inspired them. Mitchell takes the majority of lead vocals and her voice, a combination of sweet and salty, perfectly conveys the emotions contained in these generally stripped down, but far from raw compositions.

Although everything is played by the three members, occasionally augmented by JT Bates on percussion and bassist/tenor sax player Mike Lewis, subtle textures are provided by electric guitars, Wurlitzer, and even, gasp, synths and drum machines. But not to worry, BLH hasn’t gone techno or EDM. Rather they infuse those instruments into the more typical banjo, acoustic/nylon string guitar, dobro, and dulcimers that ground the music, to provide a slightly shinier exterior to these roots-based tracks.

The program ranges from the totally unplugged love ballad “Gone by Fall,” sung by Johnson with exquisite harmonies from Mitchell and Kaufman, to the rocked-up electric guitar that powers the closing, bittersweet “Cold Rain and Snow,” where all three voices pool in a subtle yet rousing Crosby, Stills and Nash styled blend. Anais takes the lead on the wistful “Summer Dream” relating the memories of lost love with thoughts of better times singing Held you like a little child/Fell under my spell awhile. Lovely stuff.

Besides the easygoing, melodic opening “Exile,” with its memorable chorus of I don’t want to live in exile, the songs creep up slowly, delicately beckoning you back for another go round.

As Kaufman says, it’s adventurous and elastic, played and sung with honesty and a sure sense of the mutual lyrical, compositional, and especially vocal abilities of its three talented musicians.         

Courtesy Chromatic Publicity

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