Very much looking forward to this Bonny Light Horseman album. My pre-order is in, two A+ singles are out so far — “Bonny Light Horseman” and “Deep in Love” — and M.C. Taylor has declared it “the best album I’ve heard in years.”
The group is made up of Tony collector Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson (of Fruit Bats, which I’ve been getting to know quite a bit this year), and producer/instrumentalist Josh Kaufman, and they’ve set their collective sights on traditional songs that have been kicking around the British Isles for generations — super exciting if you’re like me and enjoy the conversation between the past and present this kind of album can generate. I love the sense of dimensionality you get from hearing how songs have been interpreted over the years. It’s not about judging or comparing or picking favorite versions. It’s about finding the thread that connects them, and grasping it as a means of revealing how much we have in common with people who lived before us, or who live on the other side of the world.
In that spirit, I thought I’d share a couple other versions of “Bonny Light Horseman” and “Deep in Love” I’ve been bouncing back and forth between. I can’t speak to how prominently these renditions sit lineage-wise, but I think you’ll get a kick out of them. In each case, we’ll start with the newest version and work our way backward.
Bonny Light Horseman — “Bonny Light Horseman”
Just stunning. Mitchell singing lead, saxophone adding color throughout by echoing the narrator’s displacement. I’ve listened to this dozens of times. Feels like I’ve always known it.
Siobhan Miller – “Bonny Light Horseman”
Here’s a very nicely captured live version led by Scotland’s Siobhan Miller, who recorded the song for her 2017 album Strata.
Planxty — “The Bonny Light Horseman”
Enjoying this lament but lamenting that it’s not jauntier? Planxty’s got you covered. (Recorded in the late 1970’s, from what I can tell.)
Bonny Light Horseman — “Deep in Love”
Johnson takes the lead here, and what an ideal vehicle this is for his singing. The flexibility and understated expressiveness that distinguish his voice are in full force here. Message and messenger in perfect alignment.
Matt Quinn — “Deep in Love”
An a cappella version from Sussex-based folk singer Matt Quinn. Released in 2017. A great glimpse into the source material BLH pulled from.
Gladys Stone — “Deep in Love”
This one’s for my real folk nerds. I see you over there flipping through the Folkways section, trying to decide whether you need field recordings of seagulls and butter being churned. (You do. We all do.)