Album: Bonny Light Horseman – Rolling Golden Holy review

by Roberto Johnson

Inching closer to birthing their own batch of standards – Rolling Golden Holy carefully etches Bonny Light Horseman’s name into the barriers that surround the realm of modern folk music

On their own, Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman’s careers each hold enough merit to move mountains. Therefore, their first album, the self-titled Bonny Light Horseman, arrived with clear and sensible intent: three masters of modern songcraft form a supergroup and thoughtfully reimagine a collection of standards ranging from widely beloved to obscure. Their debut exceeded the promise of the trio’s collective strengths, imbuing ancient tales of yearning with restraint and a soft melodic touch, that instantly formed the basis for the band’s sound. Even through the lens of its revivalist nature, the record possessed so much beauty, and it seemed impossible for something greater not to come out of it.

Rolling Golden Holy, out this week on 37d03d, is a deeper realisation of the magic captured on the previous LP. Here, the seeds planted on the band’s maiden voyage blossom into an opulent garden of grandeur and newfound rhythms. On Bonny Light Horseman, tradition served as the band’s North Star. Alternatively, Rolling Golden Holy feels open and boundless. Its feet remain dangling in the rich well of American folk music, but its line of sight is fixated skyward, as if to pose the question: where to next? Its songs sound free-flowing, unsure of where they are heading yet full of life at every turn, relishing the ecstasy of discovering uncharted ground and the possibilities that accompany it.

The album’s course is anchored by the pedigree of its core members, their folkie roots and compositional prowess acting as a compass. Comrade Sweetheart and Gone by Fall pick up where the hushed reveries of the previous record left off – Mitchell and Johnson’s voices gliding effortlessly over gentle pastoral backdrops. California, an aptly golden and charming ode to adventure, and the Johnson-led Someone to Weep for Me lend the band’s sound an uncanny warmth. Another album highlight, the sensuous longing of Summer Dream strikes a timely chord as the seasonal shifts of autumn saunter in.

Against Mitchell and Johnson’s bucolic poetry, Kaufman’s subtle incursions of strings and keyboards appear as fields of vibrant flora, vast in breadth and wide-ranging in both colour and shape. His comforting textures on Exile bestow a spiritual mood that persists for the duration of the album. Also essential are the contributions of the only additional players on the record, drummer and percussionist JT Bates and versatile sideman Mike Lewis, whose steady, soft-spoken rhythms help hold together the jamborees of Sweetbread and Cold Rain and Snow.

With each release, Bonny Light Horseman are inching closer to birthing their own batch of standards – carefully etching their name into the barriers that surround the realm of modern folk music. Rolling Golden Holy offers a glimpse of fresh footprints beyond the barricade and shows Bonny Light Horseman for what they are: an incredibly adept and talented ensemble, and more importantly, a thriving creative partnership without a ceiling.

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