Album Reviews

Bonny Light Horseman – Keep Me On Your Mind/See You Free

(Jagjaguwar) UK release date: 7 June 2024

Modern folk trio branch out into Americana on life-improving, morale-restoring, expansive third album

Bonny Light Horseman - Keep Me On Your Mind/See You Free The three members of Bonny Light Horseman have all enjoyed varying degrees of individual success in their music careers to date but the two albums of modern folk that they’ve recorded together to date have demonstrated a heightened, uncommon sense of alchemy that have produced special results. Anaïs Mitchell is perhaps the most well known of the three, having released a string of acclaimed solo albums and enjoyed Broadway success with the adaptation of her Hadestown album. Eric D Johnson meanwhile has pursued his Fruit Bats project alongside playing with The Shins and Josh Kaufman has worked with The National, Hiss Golden Messenger and Josh Ritter among others.

Their third album Keep Me On Your Mind/See You Free sees them go broader and deeper than ever before, possessing a tangible uplift in quality of songwriting and confidence across its 20 tracks. The album clocks in over an hour but there’s no filler to be found. The band has always had a certain outsiderdom and this was reflected in the origins of the album with much of it being written and recorded in Levis Corner House, a small, ramshackle pub in Ballydehob, a small coastal village in deepest south west Ireland. It was a suitably off-the-beaten track location that somehow seems to find some sort of parallel in the rawness, sensitivity and humility of the album (the album’s cover is a painting by Tom Campbell that adorned one of the pub’s walls).

The early stages of the album see the band feel their way in gently, showcasing the remarkable vocal chemistry between Mitchell and Johnson. There’s an intimacy and closeness to the way their voices interact on Keep Me On Your Mind and Lover Take It Easy, both drawing on personal experiences to deliver songs that are rich and immediately affecting. They may be formed from familiar sounds and structures but there’s also a magic that runs through them that gives them a timeless quality.

Old Dutch kickstarts an even stronger run of tracks, the album’s defining centre ground, possessing a glorious, radio-friendly melodicism. Endorphins are released, wind metaphorically rushes through the hair, musical rays of sunshine kiss the face. When I Was Younger sees stories get woven into their music, and it touches on some of the album’s key themes, namely the circle of life and the evolution of relationships (Mitchell’s drawing from her recent experiences of motherhood in particular).

Hare And Hound sees the pace noticeably pick up, a bluegrass-informed wild ride of sorts with further stunning vocal interplay between Johnson and Mitchell. It’s rare for Mitchell to be vocally eclipsed but the moments of controlled projection from Johnson are exhilarating and bring a vitality to the song. It’s made even more powerful in how it then is followed by the gentle lullaby of Rock The Cradle, Kaufman handling lead vocals here. Singing To The Mandolin and The Clover arrive next, two bittersweet reflections on the passing of time. By this stage it already feels like something of a contemporary alt-country classic (there is a distinct shift away from the folkier leanings on their earlier albums towards more of an Americana sound here).

The final moments feel a little more grounded but still demonstrate the album’s longevity and expansiveness. The vocal harmonies of Into The O recall Fleet Foxes, I Wanna Be Where You Are is understated but buoyed by Mitchell’s delectable singing and Tumblin Down has an energising breeziness. They all contribute to the discreet variety in mood and colour and benefit from some judicious sequencing. It’s one of those albums where favourite tracks keep changing and new things to enjoy are found upon each listen. In short, this is life-improving, morale-restoring music from three artists operating at the peak of their powers.

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Bonny Light Horseman – Keep Me On Your Mind/See You Free
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