Bonny Light Horseman: Rolling Golden Holy review – new old-style songs from Anaïs Mitchell and co

A collection heavy on lovingly updated folk traditionals, Bonny Light Horseman’s eponymous, Grammy-nominated 2020 debut was an unalloyed pleasure, on a par with offerings from Jake Xerxes Fussell or Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. The three constituent parts of Bonny Light Horseman also run busy parallel careers; in 2019, Anaïs Mitchell’s took off with the Broadway transfer of her musical, Hadestown. Enticingly, Rolling Golden Holy reconvenes Mitchell, Eric D Johnson and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Josh Kaufman. This time, though, instead of reinterpreting canonical songs, they’ve written 10 of their own.

A cursory glance at the titles – Fair Annie, Fleur de Lis – confirms that these are still in the British folk idiom; beguiling three-way vocals and elegantly underplayed acoustic instruments still hold sway. But part of the pleasure of covers albums is comparing the original with the nuanced update; this album misses that moment when the three Horsepeople wrap their dulcet pipes and jazzy arrangements around an ancient, oaky institution. The past, though, is still very much present. A listen to the sax’n’banjo stomp Sweetbread reveals a nod to the country standard Rye Whiskey; Someone to Weep for Me invokes Nearer My God to Thee. The intention is to renew the tradition. And if much of the pleasure of BLH’s debut lay in their impressionistic atmospherics, the way Mitchell’s vocal twined around Johnson’s, those qualities abide.