REVIEW: Bonny Light Horseman’s Self-Titled Album from Trio of Americana Powerhouses is Delicate and Powerful


Bonny Light Horseman: a lost love, Napoleon’s finest horseman, band name, album title, title track, trio of Americana powerhouses. Comprised of Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman, and Eric Johnson of Fruit Bats, Bonny Light Horseman pulls melodies nearly lost to the past into the present on the wings of soaring harmonies and paradoxically delicate and powerful arrangements. Bonny Light Horseman mix old songs with new creations seamlessly. Recorded at both The Funkhaus in Germany and Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, New York; Bonnie Light Horseman is out now via 37d03d records.

The title track establishes the records milieu in moments with the slow but steady march of an acoustic guitar, mournful harmonica, tenor sax, and plenty of space before Mitchell’s voice cuts through the musical mist calling out to her lost horseman, “where in this wide world is there one who can compare with my bonnie light horseman who was slain in the war”. Aaron Dessner of The National makes an appearance on hi-string guitar on this stage setting track as well.

This trio of Americana compatriots trade lead vocals on various tracks. “Deep In Love” finds Johnson’s honey warm vocal on full display over an energetic mix of running acoustic guitar lines, piano, and driving percussion. “Saw a ship sailing on the big blue sea, she sailed as deep as she could be, but not so deep in love as I am,” Johnson sings. “Lowlands”, another album standout, proceeds with a slow build as drum, banjo, and haunting electric guitar drift prior to Mitchell’s focusing vocals. “He’s gone to Mobile Bay, lowlands away lowlands away my John, working for a dollar and a half a day, lowlands away lowlands away my John,” she sings. “He has gone to New Orleans to spit in the eye of a hurricane,” she continues. In place of a traditional solo break, sax and piano play out a slow duel as if meandering through the lowlands together.

“Mountain Rain” follows and finds Johnson taking a turn at lead vocal again before trading lines with Mitchell on the closing track, “10,000 Miles.” “Fare thee well my own true love…I’m going away, but I’ll be back if I go 10,000 miles, if I go 10,000 miles,” Mitchell sings before Johnson joins, “and the seas they will burn, the sun it will dry the ocean up, if I never return my love to you”.

The mission of Bonnie Light Horseman recalls Jake Xerxes Fussell’s focus on the traditional song and song craft without falling prey to the tendency to slip into a pseudo-retro Halloween party where artist play musical dress-up as they long for a bygone musical era. Instead these artist revere previous songsmiths while using songs, themes, and musical motifs of yesteryear to build something fresh for the present moment. Take a moment out of your hectic day to let Bonnie Light Horseman soothe the ache in your soul.

Review by H.R.Gertner

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