“Supergroups” are not new. However, with a lineup consisting of Anaïs Mitchell, best known for providing the songs for the musical Hadestown, Eric D. Johnson, Fruit Bats, The Shins, and Josh Kaufman, who has produced for The National and collaborated with Taylor Swift, something fresh is expected.
The trio’s inspiration came from British Isles folk songs particularly those performed by artists including Shirley Collins and Martin Carthy. Traditional folk songs provided the band material they recorded on their self-titled debut LP. On certain tracks, the trio added lyrics whilst on others including “Bonny Light Horseman” they just used the chorus.
Support came from folk musician Sam Amidon who like Anaïs Mitchell comes from Vermont. Despite being relatively unknown in the UK, Amidon managed to teach the audience at the second sold-out Union Chapel show to sing the chorus to his song “Time Has Made a Change”. Emotions ran high as Amidon and the audience pondered how changes occur in a place and the people living there. In addition, Sam’s distinct haunting and distorted notes on the fiddle left the Union Chapel elatedly unnerved.
With a new LP of original material written by the members of Bonny Light Horseman called Rolling Golden Holy, its opening track “Exile” opened the set. The subtle banjo played by Johnson and his harmonies with Mitchell were pleasantly amplified owing to the acoustics in the Union Chapel. Nine out of eleven Rolling Golden Holy songs would be played including “Someone to Weep for Me”. The folk Americana leanings of Josh Kaufman’s blues guitar resonated with the lyrics “I was named after my father in a long line of nobodies… And all that I ever wanted was someone to weep for me…” The Americana leanings were also present on the bands’ standalone single “Green Rocky Road” which as with “Exile” Eric perfectly picked the banjo.
The traditional banjo introduction to lyrics about “Fair Annie” writing with “a feathery pen” asking when her partner was going to return home epitomised the aims of Bonny Light Horseman’s sophomore LP of making new songs sound old. Johnson’s banjo and harmonies with Mitchell continued on “Sweetbread” which turned Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into beautiful, philosophical and heartfelt poetry.
The songs that stood out from Bonny Light Horseman’s self-titled debut album included “The Roving”. The trepidation and heartfelt agony was felt as Mitchell sang, “I knew her love was changing by the roving of her eye”. “Jane Jane” brought the power of six and religious imagery together with musical arrangements reminiscent of another folk supergroup, Monsters of Folk. Emotions continued as Bonny Light Horseman sang “Magpie’s Nest” which shows, love isn’t found so much in a town but rather, in a “Magpie’s Nest”.
Sam Amidon returned to the stage to play the violin on “10,000 Miles” which has apocalyptic imagery if the voyager cannot return to their love. Amidon added another emotive layer that was not present on the debut LP. Amidon also played the violin on the playout song that gave the band their name and opening track to their debut LP, “Bonny Light Horseman”. This song originally known as “Broken Hearted I will Wonder” is set in the early nineteenth-century Napoleonic Wars.
Aside from the natural beauty of Bonny Light Horseman’s material through acoustic guitars, banjos and violins, Josh Kaufman’s electric guitar solos and riffs in a forum one would not expect them to be present, let alone work, added feeling, meaning and passion to these traditional styled songs. Furthermore, there was sincerity in Kaufman, Mitchell and Johnson’s teamwork. None of the members slipped into the temptation of introducing familiar-sounding elements from their other projects.
Bonny Light Horseman was a project where the musicians bonded over traditional folk songs and the result is creating music that has much relevance and can reach a crowd the same way technologically innovative beats and sounds can.
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