by Mark Jackson
There really is no better feeling than coming across an album you know will last an eternity on your turntable. And possibly more importantly, will breathe new life into records you have long since ‘put away’ for a later date. In Bonny Light Horseman, Anais Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, and Josh Kaufman have achieved just that through their wonderful re-construction of traditional folk songs, fused cleverly with their own musical imaginings – a majestic brush of contemporary and sensual astral folk.
Fashioned inside the artistic hub of East Berlin’s Funkhaus, during the inaugural Aaron Dessner/Justin Vernon hosted invite-only ‘PEOPLE project’, Bonny Light Horseman – concept aside – is an ode to the uncomplicated. A collection of songs that are expertly executed – where every vocal harmony and every guitar jangle matters. Nothing exists for the sake of being there. Completed to its near entirety in just seven days, the finishing touches were applied at Dreamland Studios, New York in January 2019, resulting in a fusion of trust in the centuries old, with triumphantly confident modern sounds.
Deep in Love is as timeless and immediate a folk-pop song that has ever been penned. Johnson’s Nashville Skyline era Dylan-esque vocal delivery, pitted against the beautiful PEOPLE project choral harmonies, makes for a record that immediately demands attention. The vocal and guitar melodies of the fantastic Magpies Nest are as beautifully constructed as some of the finest moments of your favourite Simon & Garfunkel record (yes, at times it’s that good). This is Paul Simon songwriting for the new decade. In fact, everywhere you look, there are gentle nods to everything and everyone great about the folk tradition, without ever sounding contrived or indeed imitative.
Bonny Light Horseman is an expertly crafted and brilliantly executed festival of new melodious joy. A collection of lyrics, some that have existed for more than five centuries, which are hauled back to modern day relevance with musical arrangements that strike comparisons with many greats of the folk genre. The collaboration uses the most simple and perhaps masterful concept – existing folk music – and in doing so, Mitchell, Johnson and Kaufman are sure to attract attention from fans spanning musical genres and eras – no mean feat!
Secret Meeting score: 88