May 29, 2008

Lie Down In The Light-Bonnie "Prince" Billy

There are singers. There are song writers. Some are bad, some better. Some that are great. In both disciplines. Then there is Will Oldham. Well, he occupies another territory. That of legend. That of teacher and leader. Of a greatness that few attain. For the last decade he has been recording under the name of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, making astounding music with consummate ease. Before that he delivered us many more moments of musical candour under various "Palace" monikers. Now he returns, with little fanfare, with "Lie Down In The Light" and I am happy to acknowledge that it fits safely into Oldham's ever burgeoning canon of work. Whilst it doesn't reach the heights of a masterpiece like "I See A Darkness", it is most certainly a beautifully put together collection of songs. Songs that reach your heart, dig a hole and then bury themselves deep inside your pulsating veins.

The most noticeable thing to me about this album is its lack of angst, its lack of sadness. It seems an almost happy piece of music. Sure there is an element of sadness on display, but ultimately it feels optimistic. There is an air of sunniness, sometimes missing in Oldham's previous work. Although for me, his dark shades of melancholy were a major attraction to his music. However Oldham's mastery of a simple melody and phrase means that this album still delivers plenty of rewarding listening. The opening track "Easy Does It" reflects the optimistic mood. It's a jaunty, hummable tune featuring gentle acoustic strumming and that trademark Oldham violin. This song also highlights another feature of the album. Oldham's singing style, always unique, has evolved into a more forthright delivery. He really pushes through each lyric. Don't worry there is still that typical vulnerability and quavering that made him so great, but there is definitely a greater effort to produce a more rounded vocal. A highlight of the album comes early in the shape of "You Remind Of Something (The Glory Goes)", an absolutely delicious slice of Oldham folk. A strong ode to the power of love, it resonates long after its finish. "Where smiles break free and surprise is your friend/ And dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn/ To my favorite song that has no end." Glorious. Eternally consistent, there is nary a weak track here. Also to be mentioned is the strong band Oldham has employed, which includes his brother Paul and the splendid vocals of Ashley Webber. Webber duets with Oldham with great results on "So Everyone". She also joins him on the wistful "You Want That Picture", one of the darker tunes on the album, but one that leaves a powerful impression. For gentle beauty and grace then look no further then "Missing One", which also has a dysphoric edge. The title track is simply gorgeous, a gloriously rustic country ballad, whilst "Willow Trees Bend" is a stark and eloquent statement of undying devotion. To round things off nicely is a glorious cover. "I'll Be Glad" is a composition by Seattle based singer Shannon Stephens. Its gentle and easy melody is quite irresistible.

I have a theory that most creative people only have a finite amount of inspiration inside them. Especially in the music world. At some point, the creative drive seems to dissipate. Making it hard to continually go to the well of greatness. Actually some never even reach that well, although that doesn't stop them having commercial success, merely producing the barely passable. However there are some musicians that seem eternally gifted. Whether by pure luck, or gift, or hard work, they continue to inspire us. Will Oldham is one such creature. The man is touched by something that few of us are. This latest work of his is a prime example. It is a superb rendering of his art. His art of touching the heart and expressing the joy of life and the love that exists in life. For that, I am particularly grateful.

You Remind Me Of Something-Bonnie "Prince" Billy


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