Bonny Light Horseman Are Ageless on Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free

The folk group shines on their third release, an 18-song double-album with reflections on longing, growing older and a pastoral kind of life.

Music Reviews Bonny Light Horseman
Bonny Light Horseman Are Ageless on Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free

A double-album initially seemed like too much. Bonny Light Horseman had already demonstrated a knack for interpretation on the trio’s self-titled 2020 album, comprising 10 reworked folk songs that sometimes dated back hundreds of years. Eric D. Johnson, Josh Kaufman and Anaïs Mitchell next showed they could write original songs with the same ageless quality on their 10-song 2022 collection, Rolling Golden Holy. So why clog things up with nearly twice that number of songs on Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free, Bonny Light Horseman’s third album? Why not pare the tracklist down to the 10 best instead?

Well, for one thing, because there’s not much here to cut. There’s scarcely a dud among the 18 songs on Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free, which also includes two tracks that are snippets of chatter. Though the album feels long at 63 minutes, Johnson, Kaufman and Mitchell fill that time with reflections on longing, growing older and a pastoral kind of life—all rendered in the soft light and lengthening shadows of a late summer afternoon fading toward evening.

Johnson and Mitchell blend their voices in harmony on melodies that linger and refrains that invite singing along, whether you’re alone in your kitchen or crowded into Levis Corner House, a pub in Ballydehob, Ireland, where the band recorded about half of the songs on Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free. It’s not a live album: Bonny Light Horseman worked alone inside the pub for two days before allowing in a select group of regulars toward the end of the third. The small audience joined in on the outro to “Old Dutch,” and it’s not hard to understand how the Levis patrons got caught up in the moment. Johnson and Mitchell swap verses and bring their voices together on the chorus over a steadily expanding arrangement of piano and guitars that swells into a chorus of voices. Though the lyrics are about lovers who can’t find a way to connect, the song doesn’t have that issue. On the contrary, “Old Dutch” has a life-affirming vitality about it, a sensibility that carries over throughout the album.

It’s there in the twinkling piano and unhurried beat on “Singing to the Mandolin,” where Mitchell contrasts childhood memories with an idyllic present moment, assisted by Johnson (and the multi-instrumentalist Kaufman here) on the chorus in what amounts to a master-class in vocal harmony. It’s piano again that anchors the wistful “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” while “Hare and Hound” has a more traditional folk feel with a mix of mandolin, banjo and guitar. The lyrics there have an archaic sensibility that could have entertained a tavern crowd in the 1600s as easily as in 2023. In the end, that’s what makes Bonny Light Horseman such a compelling group. The band’s songs exist in their own time, brought together by three musicians (plus drummer JT Bates and bassists Cameron Ralston and Mike Lewis here) who have a deep and natural chemistry. It’s contagious enough to make Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free feel like a generous gift.

Watch Bonny Light Horseman’s Paste Session from 2021 below.

Eric R. Danton has been contributing to Paste since 2013. His work has also appeared in Rolling Stone, The Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe and Pitchfork, among other publications. He writes Freak Scene, a newsletter about music in Western Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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