Album Review: Bonny Light Horseman, ‘Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free’

I suppose it was too much to expect that folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman would continue to plow the fields of American and British folk songs forever? Dylan moved on, The Dead moved on, everyone moves on from their origins in traditional balladry. Of course, we also have here two of the finest roots songwriters around (Tony-award winning Anais Mitchell and Fruit Bats’ lead singer Eric Johnson) and one of the best sideman in existence (Josh Kaufman), so it’s no wonder at all that they turned to original songs and arrangements for their second and now third full length albums. But those old lyrics, ideas, thoughts from ages past still remain in the new music being made, and for folk music lovers, there’s a satisfaction to that.

And that satisfying mix of old and new — that’s a great way to summarize the band’s new album, Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free (out June 7 on Jagjaguwar). There’s an ease and a hominess to the music on the new album, each song flowing into the next, and the whole wrapped up with tight production and a delightful sense of play. It’s a double album, but never feels too long; in fact, you’ll likely find yourself flipping back to the beginning to start over once you’ve finished. These are the kind of songs made for drinking tea by a cozy woodstove, made for hearth and home.

Some of this cozy feeling may come from the setting of the album’s recording session. Mitchell was enamored with the century old Irish pub Levis Corner House in the little village of Ballydehob in Ireland’s County Cork. She took a wild hair to record the album there, setting up in the cramped but homey confines of this community gathering place. The band invited the community, in fact, bringing a kind of Irish session ambiance to the recording. You’ll hear coughs, conversations, and applause as the Cork locals move through the recording space living their own lives. It’s both an ode to small village life and an homage to the informal nature of early folk recordings.

Though the songs are original, snippets of folk lyrics echo through them, bouncing off the cluttered walls of the pub. “When I was younger, I used to seek pleasure / When I was younger, I used to drink wine” Mitchell sings, a line from a traditional ballad of Texas Gladden (and later Nina Simone). “Now that I’m older, I’m rocking a cradle / Rocking a baby, who’s always crying” she continues with new lyrics, taking the song from the death lament of its origin to her own motherhood. Johnson opens “Lover Take It Easy” with the line “Down by Salley garden, you and I did stand,” referencing both Yeats and a variety of old fiddle tunes (a “sally garden” is a willow grove by a creek). The boisterous clapping after some of these songs from the pub’s real life audience comes as a bit of a surprise after the polish of their production, but it’s also a reminder of where this music truly belongs: among us. 


 Keep Me on Your Mind/See You Free is available HERE


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