Second album develops the band’s potential and is a deeply satisfying listen.
This second album from Bonny Light Horseman at least proves that they were not just a one-off supergroup side project. Of course it’s hardly a secret that Anaïs Mitchell, Josh Kaufman, and Eric D. Johnson have been denying like mad that they are a supergroup – although by any accepted definition of the term that is exactly what they are. It seems that they want to avoid the negative connotations that go with that appellation – the several albums but essentially a short-livedness thing, like Cream, or the clashing egos and perpetual soap-opera of Crosby, Stills and Nash. They want to be judged on the music, and they want the music, and the band that makes it, to be something that lasts. Well, we all want that. There was already an expectation that this would be an album of some merit – it has after all been well trailed with early singles that have been something to cherish from their first listen. Well, if the anticipation is all too much for you then let’s cut to the chase – ‘Rolling Golden Holy‘ is an album you’ll be wanting to purchase.
On their debut album Bonny Light Horseman took folksong and made it something relevant to the 21st Century without reshaping and contorting it to such an extent that it lot all meaning – lost, in effect,it humanity. Reshaping with reverence was the approach that produced an album that was pure joy. Here there is a difference – the music is new and yet so often it feels just like that first album in that a song has a sense of being steeped in long years of singing but has now been given that new perspective and shape. So many of the songs could be used to illustrate that, but ‘Fair Annie‘ is as good as any with its duetting vocals by Anaïs Mitchell and Eric D. Johnson, gliding over banjo and percussion with faint stabs of organ just when you least expect it and words pulled from that deep well of questioning and answering folk song which switch between unspecified abandonment, constant love and the threat of an untimely passing – “Who’s going to love you dear? Who’s going to miss ya?” moving to “I’m on my way to glory, if I get there before you do I’m sending back for thee.” Blissful.
‘Someone to Weep for Me‘ dances around a soldier’s thoughts of familial immortality – and love seen but not obtained – as Johnson sings of a not unusual circumstance “I was named after my father in a long line of nobodies” who espies the potential for love, and family, and all that entails but too late “the first night that I saw her was the last night of my leave.” The perpetual missed opportunities of the common man, whose unremarked fate is to be “cannon fodder.”
And then, adding a different richness to the album, there are the aforementioned singles ‘Exile‘, ‘California‘ and ‘Summer Dream‘, each one a perfect piece of Laural Canyonism – like discovered spare songs from ‘Deja Vu‘ brought out gleaming into the light – an ideal balance to the more directly rustic songs – all floating bass notes and blissed out sunlight drenched moments that touches even ‘California”s wistful and regretting theme of upping sticks and moving on to a new horizon.
‘Rolling Golden Holy‘ is an album that has been much anticipated, and the good news is that it does not disappoint. Rather it sets a marker as to what Americana could, and should, sound like. And whilst it may bring favourite bands to mind it has the good grace to not sound too much like them, rather Bonny Light Horseman have just made it clear as to with whom they should be shelved. As equals.
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