The new folk supergroup Bonny Light Horseman (Anais Mitchell, Eric Johnson of the Fruit Bats and Josh Kaufman) have already given a few teases from their upcoming eponymous debut album, slated for early 2020. But “Jane Jane,” the trio’s third preview, offers the clearest portrait of the type of folk re-imagining at the core of the band’s mission statement.
Sung by Johnson and Mitchell, “Jane Jane” is a Southern traditional, first captured as “Jane-Jane (Three Mocking Birds)” in a field recording by a singer named Lila May Stevens in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1939. An earlier version of the song was eventually recorded by Peggy Seeger, but Bonny Light Horsemen’s rendition is based in large part on the Seventies folk singer Tia Blake’s recording, which combines elements of the Christmastime spiritual “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.”
Mitchell sings the “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” refrain, a hypnotic major chord ditty that stands in stark contrast to Johnson’s minor chord verse. “It gives me chills and makes me feel like laughing at the same time,” Mitchell said of the way the song rapidly alternates between its two primary sections. It’s a tantalizing preview of what the group’s debut album promises to achieve: making nearly-century-old songs sound like they were written just yesterday.
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