When singer and songwriter Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats) heard that his friends, the singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell and multi-instrumentalist and producer Josh Kaufman, who’s worked with the exalted likes of The National and Bob Weir, were getting together to reconfigure ancient folk songs for our modern age, he couldn’t resist asking to join them. The result of this, in retrospect, inspired union, 2020’s Bonny Light Horseman, was the most extraordinary and beguiling album, one whose sheer, fleet-footed beauty has been known to reduce grown men and women to tears.
As their three voices intertwined and soared over bright, delicate arrangements, you could hear traditional folk tunes from the UK, Ireland and Appalachia, such as the title track and Blackwaterside, lovingly spliced together into insightful new songs, offering thrilling new perspectives.
Two years later (by which time Mitchell’s Hadestown show had become a bona-fide Broadway sensation), the trio reconvened for Rolling Golden Holy where, instead of reinterpreting songs from the tradition, they’d written ten entirely new songs of their own, although titles such as Fair Annie, Fleur de Lis and Cold Rain and Snow confirmed that they were, and are, still very much working with the British folk idiom, even if the latter, especially in the live incarnation unleashed on this tour, might feasibly be described as ‘rifftastic’.
By the time they got to this pre-encore wild card at Manchester’s Band on the Wall, where Kaufman and Johnson could almost have been mistaken for Crazy Horse in full (albeit brief) flame-out, the trio, supported by polite bass and drums, had long since had an impressively attentive, sold-out audience eating out of their hands. Revisiting pretty much every song from the albums, plus Dave Van Ronk’s Green Green Rocky Road, their delight in sharing the songs and their sentiments was beyond doubt and charmingly infectious.
For all its tasteful delicacy and many moments of startling beauty, this was a robust, totally convincing show from already-successful performers for whom Bonny Light Horseman is clearly considerably more than a sideshow.
Main image credit to Annie Beedy
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