Quite the emotional theft of your ears and heart is this debut self titled album by Bonny Light Horseman. The ten songs are all based on traditional tunes (described as transatlantic folk tunes that contain some lyrics that are as much as 500 years old, mostly from the British Isles but also from Ireland and Appalachia) but only a faint resemblance of everything instantly familiar hints of that fact. The alternating female and male lead vocals both have antique but unique qualities, only enticing the listener deeper into the aural experience. There are those producers and arrangers that can craft magic in the music with sparse atmosphere with a touch of perfection. The production by Josh Kaufman and arrangements by the band do just that.
Set up as a trio of Anais Mitchell (vocals, acoustic guitar), a well seasoned and successful singer/songwriter famous for 'Hadestown', which is an expansive Broadway hit issued in three different versions, as well as releasing several exquisite solo albums; Josh Kaufman (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, organ, piano) from the band Higgins, Muzz, spots with The National, and too many to even list; and Eric D. Johnson (vocals, acoustic guitar, 12 string electric, banjo, harmonica, piano) probably best known for his role with Fruit Bats, but had stints with Vetiver, The Shins, Nina Persson, and a scroll of others; they add J.T. Bates (drums, percussion, vocals) and Michael Lewis (bass, tenor sax, vocals), plus twelve more guests on particular songs. Although it sounds crowded, it is very airy and subtle.
The label is a collective comprised of over 100 artists including Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (Will Oldham) that gives added reason to own a physical copy of music releases such as this, so the novice can discover that when looking at the label name on the binder, it is "PE0PLE" upside down. Not to mention that the gatefold digipack is the only place that gives the details of who plays what on which song, and further info about the album. Anais Mitchell brings a similar innocent voice like Karen Peris (Innocence Mission) or Julie Miller, and there is no ignoring an early ballad playground or the strong grab you by the collar and pulling you close to partake of the warm lean but richly arranged composition, one after another. Tremendous woe and at the same time deceitful at making you feel good.
With a wealth of earnest semi-melancholy soaked gravity, Bonny Light Horseman display every moment of salutation to the listener. 'Bright Morning Stars' (track #9) is amazing with old-timey gospel, adding a special lead voice from Justin Vernon. The traditional pieces these songs were built on give the soul a peaceful nostalgia that the good memories serve up so ardently. If any random release caught me off guard this month and was a grand surprise, it was this welcome change. It earned a place in my permanent library. The contents are actually difficult to convey in their truest sense. Words like precious, near sacred, and seriously elegant, but in both a rich and raw way come to mind. The music is well paced to allow saturation to completion. In the veneer of each tune comes a sage and muscular hopefulness. Music that seems to have been hibernating and just now awakening for them (the artists) and for us, at this exact time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.