Palace Music and Will Oldham


(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
There Is No One , 6/10
Days In The Wake , 7/10
Hope, 5/10
Viva Last Blues, 6/10
Arise Therefore , 6.5/10
Joya, 5/10
Black Rich Music, 6/10
I See A Darkness, 6.5/10
Ode Music, 6/10
Guarapero, 4/10
All Most Heaven , 6/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Ease Down The Road , 5/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Master And Everyone (2003) , 6.5/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Superwolf (2005), 6/10
The Brave And The Bold (2005), 3/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: The Letting Go (2006), 6/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Ask Forgiveness (2007), 4/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Lie Down In The Light (2008), 5.5/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Beware (2009), 5.5/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Wolfroy Goes To Town (2011), 5/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: The Wondershow Of The World (2010), 5/10
Bonnie Prince Billy: Master And Everyone (2012) , 5/10
Links:

Kentucky's Will Oldham, who also recorded under the monikers Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Palace Music and Palace, virtually jumpstarted the "alt-country" movement with There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You (1993), an album that displayed the qualities of independent alternative rock while playing old-fashioned country music. Oldham's acoustic folk was not terribly emotional: Days In The Wake (1994) was perhaps his most personal statement.
(English translation by Billy B.)

Apart from his genuine artistic talent, Oldham will be remembered above all for starting the acoustic renaissance of the 90's. He is an old-style folksinger thriving in an era of independent "lo-fi" music.

The Palace Brothers are the project of singer-songwriter Will Oldham who was born in Louisville in 1971. Oldham wandered aimlessly for a number of years. In 1987, at sixteen years of age, he was an aspiring actor in Hollywood and later attended university until 1989. He was a member of the group Box of Chocolate for a few months and in 1991 returned to Hollywood as a television actor before finally ending up once again unemployed in Louisville. In 1992 Oldham formed the group Palace Flophouse with his brother Ned and Brian McMahon of Slint. The following year they started recording their own songs. It all began after his second attempt to make a name for himself in Hollywood. Having returned home broke Oldham formed a group with Brian McMahon of Slint, his brother Ned and Rich Schuler of King Kong (Riding dates back to this period). The first single, Ohio River Boat Song, is a moving reminisce and presents us with an ultra-realistic image in the purest tradition of the southern short story (years later the other single recorded around this time, Little Blue Eyes/ The Spider's Dude will be released). There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You (Drag City, 1993) is one of the most celebrated examples of a conversion from alternative rock to country. It had already been done by Baby Flamehead but it was with the Palace Brothers that it became fashionable. They specialize in parables of perdition which Oldham sings in tones somewhere between those of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave (Drinking Woman, the B-side of the first single and Long Before). What really grabs the listener is the gloomy nihilism of the singer, who, while confessing to incest in Riding, protests in the voice of one who has been condemned to damnation: "God is what I make of him". Their brand of country music is, however, played with the same melancholy ecstasy as that of the Meat Puppets. And even more depressing are the singles Trudy Dies, one of their more dramatic and moving tracks, and Stable Will, both on the EP An Arrow Through The Bitch (Domino).

The affected style of the first album gives way to a spartan folk on the following Palace Brothers (Drag City, 1984), later renamed Days In The Wake (Drag City, 1993), which is practically a solo album by Will Oldham, and was recorded primarily on his acoustic guitar. The themes of Oldham's songs vary between disillusionment in love (Will You Miss Me When I Burn, I Send My Love To You), religious torments (Blessed Grace) and compassion for the disenfranchised of America (No More Workhorse Blues). His gloomy philosophy is clearly expressed in the lyrics: "When you have no one/ no one can hurt you". Oldham's raw acoustic folk is purer and more traditional than any other, and on occasion (I Am A Cinematographer) attempts to break away into a more melodic tune.

At the end of the year an appendix is also released, the EP Hope (Drag City, 1994), credited to the Palace Songs. . By this time the general impression is more of a nightclub rather than of a saloon and sometimes has the feel of a funeral. The tone, on the other hand, is increasingly like a preacher who mourns the sins of our time in hushed tones diametrically opposed to the likes of Nick Cave. Oldham delves into those abysses rarely seen in popular music. Tracks like the spectral Agnes Queen Of Sorrow and the slow All Gone All Gone (which resembles If It Be Your Will by Cohen) emit a suffocating sense of the ineluctable and of the "for ever lost", as would the slow-motion image of an old man shaking his head before the ruins of his life. But what triumphs over all is his favourite style, the waltz which rocks the listener,nearly hypnotically, into a world in which tragedies become fairy tales: Winter Lady, in limbo between the most fairy tale like songs of Leonard Cohen and the most soothing of Dylan on Blonde On Blonde; Untitled, a sorrowful ode to Harvest (Neil Young); and the apocalyptic Werner's Last Blues To Blokbuster, interpreted on the piano like a funeral march, the ultimate manifestation of the existential outlook of this bard of the void.

Thus Will Oldham put himself up there with Beck at the head of the "slacker folk" movement of the nineties. One of his lyrics sums up his poetics well: "Why is the night so long?"

His productivity was constant. The singles O How I Enjoy The Light and West Palm Beach (one of his most solemn songs), the EP Mountain (with a version of Mountain Low played on the synthesiser), the album Viva Last Blues, credited to Palace Music, the single Every Mother's Son and the EP I Am A Cinematographer (which has three tracks taken from the albums) were all released one after another. Prolific but not particularly inspired, Oldham seemed to show a desperate need to communicate.

However, with Viva Last Blues (Drag City, 1995) Oldham found his true voice. Left behind the oleographic style that made his reputation, Oldham began playing what used to be called country-rock (Work Hard Play Hard, Tonight's Decision, New Partner). Mountain Low and New Partner on the other hand repeat the same tales of woe as ever. Old Jerusalem may struck the right balance between the two.

Palace Music (ex Songs, ex Brothers) slow it down on Arise Therefore (Drag City, 1996), this time with Dave Grubbs on piano and a rhythm box. Oldham hides himself away in the cocktail lounge of Purgatory of Stablemate, in the silence blues of A Sucker's Evening and in the nearly imperceptible gospel of You Have Cum. If you can find a term which is the exact opposite of "jubilation" ("misery"?), you may use that to describe the hypnotic cadences and the morbid riffs of the bass which proliferate this album. What stands out in this tangle of terrifying interior stillness is not so much the tone of inebriated philosophy of Will Oldham as the skilful arrangements of the piano (David Grubbs) and the bass (Ned Oldham). Oldham doesn't always manage to avoid the monotonous and the banal (the interminable lament of The Sun Highlights The Lack In Each), but in a few years they will be able to put together a very respectable "greatest hits" (and it will probably include The Weaker Soldier, the simplest song on this album).

Lost Blues And Other Songs is a collection from the singles and EP's.

Next Will Oldham finally throws away the mask and releases an album under his own name, Joya (Drag City, 1997). Together with his old name he discards in part his fastidious attitude. As a result the album is the most human of his career so far. For the first time Oldham does not seem like a carbon copy of someone else. He is an original (O Let It Be, New Gypsy, Idea And Deed). Existential angst turned into an art form however is not interesting for very long. Nick Drake (also) had good songs. Oldham really has very few. If anything he has good lyrics. But one cannot base a musical career on words alone.

Oldham is as prolific as he is paranoid, so nothing gets missed. The mini-album Black Rich Music (Drag City, 1998) is a re-issue of a soundtrack from 1995 (which was released as a limited edition only). Do What You Will Do, The Risen Lord and Black Rich don't leave a bad impression on his anthology and as a whole the album suggests that perhaps the medium of cinematography would be suited to the music of Oldham.

The album I See A Darkness (Palace, 1998) was released Under the moniker Bonnie Prince Billy. The prolific Oldham tends to fill albums with one or two centerpieces and then let the other songs simply spread the mood. In this case the centerpieces are few (the solemn and tuneful, singalong ode of A Minor Place) but the mood is indeed gripping, especially in the somber and almost gothic Death To Everyone, I See A Darkness, and Song For The New Breed, dirges that sound like a dead man's last whispers but powered by an almost Sting-esque elegance. Oldham engages in an art of extreme solipsism. Another Day Full Of Dread is harrowing like a scared child humming a nursery rhyme in a dark corner.
That is not to say that the music lags behind the concept. On the contrary, here Oldham displays an unusually broad horizon, from the piano-based lullaby Knockturn to the quasi-reggae lament of Madeleine-Mary (with a melody stolen from Neil Young' Ohio), from the honky-tonking yodel of Today I Was An Evil One to Nomadic Revery, a glorious, messy call-and-response all mumbles and howls.
At least Madeleine-Mary, Nomadic Revery and A Minor Place rank among his best.

But certainly Oldham has found his true voice. Not just crying for the sake of crying, the human being behind Oldman's tears can sculpt a musical universe that is unlike any other, a desolate wasteland of half-alive emotions that are mercilessly whipped by fate.

I Palace Brothers (in seguito ribattezzati a seconda dell'occasione Palace Songs e Palace Music e semplicemente Palace) ebbero la funzione storica di lanciare il rinascimento acustico degli anni '90.

L'idea fu del cantante e chitarrista Will Oldham, nato a Louisville (Kentucky) nel 1971 ma per anni inquieto girovago: aspirante attore a sedici anni, a Hollywood nel 1987, universitario fino al 1989, membro dei Box Of Chocolate per qualche mese, attore televisivo di nuovo a Hollywood nel 1991, infine di nuovo disoccupato a Louisville.

Tutto ebbe inizio dopo il suo secondo tentativo di sfondare a Hollywood. Tornato a casa squattrinato nel 1992, Oldham formo` i Palace Flophouse con il fratello Ned, con Brian McMahon degli Slint e con Rich Schuler dei King Kong, e l'anno successivo comincio` a registrare le proprie canzoni (Riding risale a questo periodo). Il primo singolo, Ohio River Boat Song, una commovente reminescenza e vignetta iper-realista nella piu` pura tradizione della novella sudista, Little Blue Eyes/ The Spider's Dude, altro singolo registrato all'epoca ma pubblicato soltanto anni dopo, rivelarono un folksinger all'antica, ma maturato nell'era della musica indipendente "lo-fi". There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You (Drag City, 1993) e` uno dei casi piu` celebri di conversione dal rock alternativo al country. L'idea era gia` stata dei Baby Flamehead, ma e` con i Palace Brothers che diventa una moda. La loro specialita` sono le parabole di perdizione che Oldham canta in un tono a meta` strada fra Leonard Cohen e Nick Cave (Drinking Woman, il retro del primo singolo, e Long Before). A raggelare e` soprattutto il tetro nichilismo del cantante, che, nel confessare un incesto in Riding, protesta con voce di dannato: "God is what I make of him". Il loro country e` pero` suonato con la malinconia estatica dei Meat Puppets. E ancor piu` depressi saranno i singoli Trudy Dies, una delle sue sceneggiate piu` emozionanti, e Stable Will, raccolti sull'EP An Arrow Through The Bitch (Domino).

Lo stile affettato del primo album cede il posto a un folk spartano sul successivo Palace Brothers, in seguito ribattezzato Days In The Wake (Drag City, 1994), che e` praticamente un disco solista di Will Oldham, e suonato prevalentemente dalla sua chitarra acustica. L'animo di Oldham si dibatte fra delusioni amorose (Will You Miss Me When I Burn, I Send My Love To You), tormenti religiosi (Blessed Grace) e compassione per i diseredati d'America (No More Workhorse Blues). La sua tetra filosofia e` ben espressa dai versi: "When you have no one/ no one can hurt you". Lo sciatto folk acustico di Oldham e` piu` puro e tradizionale di ogni altro, e raramente (I Am A Cinematographer) tenta di librarsi in una melodia gradevole.

Alla fine dell'anno esce anche un'appendice, l'EP Hope (Drag City, 1994), accreditato ai Palace Songs. L'accompagnamento e` ormai da night club, piu` che da saloon, e in qualche caso da funerale. Il piglio e` invece sempre piu` da predicatore che piange sui peccati della nostra era, a mezza voce, in maniera diametralmente opposta a Nick Cave. Oldham precipita in abissi di pessimismo raramente lambiti dalla musica popolare. Brani come la spettrale Agnes Queen Of Sorrow e la lenta All Gone All Gone (che assomiglia a It It Be Your Will di Cohen) emanano un soffocante senso di ineluttabile e di "perso per sempre", come potrebbe l'immagine al rallentatore di un vecchio che scuota la testa davanti alle rovine della sua vita. A trionfare e` soprattutto il suo stile prediletto, il valzer che culla in maniera quasi ipnotica l'ascoltatore in un mondo in cui le tragedie diventano favole: Winter Lady, in un limbo fra il piu` fiabesco Leonard Cohen e il piu` soave Dylan di Blonde On Blonde; Untitled, una dolente ode alla Harvest (Neil Young); e l'apocalittico Werner's Last Blues To Blokbuster, scandito dal pianoforte come una marcia funebre, apice dei brividi esistenziali di questo bardo del nulla.

Will Oldham si pone cosi` con Beck alla testa dello "slacker folk" degli anni '90. Un suo verso ben riassume tutta la sua poetica: "Why is the night so long?" I suoi dischi hanno si` il difetto di essere auto-indulgenti e monocordi, ma Oldham sta maturando come storyteller degli Appalacchi, la parte che sembra aver sognato fin da bambino.

L'attivita` discografica rimane intensa. Escono a catena i singoli O How I Enjoy The Light e West Palm Beach (una delle sue canzoni piu` solenni), l'EP Mountain (contenente una variante di Mountain Low arrangiata per sintetizzatore), l'album Viva Last Blues, accreditato ai Palace Music, il singolo Every Mother's Son e L'EP I Am A Cinematographer (che raccoglie tre brani tratti dagli album). Prolifico ma non particolarmente ispirato, Oldham sembra soprattutto sfogare un bisogno disperato di comunicare.

Viva Last Blues (Drag City, 1995) afferma comunque la sua vera voce. Abbandonato lo stile oleografico con cui si era fatto rispettare, Oldham si mette a suonare quello che una volta si chiamava country-rock (Work Hard Play Hard, Tonight's Decision, New Partner). Mountain Low e New Partner ripetono invece le nenie di sempre. Old Jerusalem trova forse l'equilibrio giusto fra le due maniere.

I Palace Music (ex Songs, ex Brothers) scalano marcia con Arise Therefore (Drag City, 1996), questa volta con Dave Grubbs al pianoforte e una rhythm-box. Oldham si rintana nel cocktail lounge del Purgatorio di Stablemate, nel silenzio blues di A Sucker's Evening, nel gospel quasi impercettibile di You Have Cum. Se trovate un termine che e` l'esatto opposto di "tripudio" ("coma"?), usate quello per descrivere le cadenze ipnotiche e le figure di basso cadaveriche che popolano questo disco. Cio` che svetta su questo groviglio di spaventosa quiete interiore non e` tanto il tono da filosofo alcoolizzato di Will Oldham quanto gli accorti arrangiamenti di piano (David Grubbs) e basso (Ned Oldham). Non sempre Oldham riesce a evitare monotonia e banalita` (l'interminabile lamento di The Sun Highlights The Lack In Each), ma fra qualche anno potranno mettere assieme un "greatest hits" di tutto rispetto (e probabilmente ci metteranno anche The Weaker Soldier, la canzone piu` facile di questo disco).

Lost Blues And Other Songs raccoglie un po' di singoli ed EP.

Will Oldham getta la maschera e pubblica finalmente un disco a suo nome, Joya (Drag City, 1997). Insieme alla vecchia denominazione abbandona anche parte del suo fastidioso atteggiamento. L'album e` cosi` il piu` umano della sua carriera. Per la prima volta Oldham non sembra un nastro registrato da qualcun altro, ma un uomo (O Let It Be, New Gypsy, Idea And Deed). L'inedia innalzata a forma d'arte ha pero` un fascino che dura pochi minuti. Nick Drake aveva (anche) delle buone canzoni. Oldham ne ha veramente poche. Semmai ha delle buone liriche. Ma non si puo` costruire una carriera musicale sui testi.

Oldham e` tanto prolifico quanto paranoico che nulla vada perso. Il mini-album Black Rich Music (Drag City, 1998) e` la riedizione di una colonna sonora del 1995 (apparsa soltanto in edizione limitata). Do What You Will Do, The Risen Lord e Black Rich non sfigurano nel suo canzoniere, e nel suo insieme il disco dimostra che forse il mezzo cinematografico sarebbe adatto alla musica di Oldham.

Sotto lo pseudonimo di Bonnie Prince Billy esce anche I See A Darkness (Palace, 1998), album ancor piu` dimesso, sul quale spicca soltanto il suo testardo solipsismo.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D’Onofrio)

Il prolifico Oldham tende a riempire gli album con uno o due "pezzi forti", lasciando che le altre canzoni ne diffondano l’umore. In questo caso i pezzi forti sono diversi (la solenne e melodica ode corale di A Minor Place) e l’umore è piuttosto avvincente, specialmente nelle sobrie e quasi gotiche Death To Everyone, I See A Darkness, and Song For The New Breed, lamenti che suonano come gli ultimi sussurri di un condannato a morte ma potenziati da una eleganza quasi Sting-iana. Oldham si dedica ad un’arte di estremo egocentrismo. Another Day Full Of Dread è atroce come un bimbo impaurito che fra sé e sé, in un angolo buio, canticchia una filastrocca. Non vuol dire che la musica resti arretrata rispetto al concetto. Al contrario, qui Oldham dipinge un orizzonte insolitamente ampio, dalla ninna nanna per piano Knockturn al lamento quasi reggae di Madeleine-Mary (con una melodia rubata da Ohio di Neil Young), dallo yodel honky-tonk di Today I Was An Evil One a Nomadic Revery, una gloriosa, caotica botta e risposta tutta mormorii e ululati. Almeno Madeleine-Mary, Nomadic Revery e A Minor Place si collocano fra le sue canzoni migliori.

Sicuramente, però, Oldham ha trovato la sua voce. Considerato che non piange solamente per il gusto di piangere, l’essere umano che si cela dietro le lacrime di Oldham può scolpire un universo musicale che è ben diverso da qualunque altro, un desolato deserto di emozioni mezze morte che vengono impietosamente fustigate dal destino.

A film soundtrack composed by Oldham yields the material for the instrumental EP Ode Music (Drag City, 2000). The music is spare, mellow and zen-inspired. The long Ode #1 plays the same guitar figures and organ drones over and over again. Minimalist trance is also the name of the game for the other short fragments, with the notable exceptions of Ode #2 and Ode #4 that spin delicate melodies out of the recurring patterns. These compositions share the transcendental quality of John Fahey's masterpieces, although not the great guitarist's ambitions.

Guarapero (Drag City, 2000) is a double album of rarities.

All Most Heaven (Drag City, 2000) is a mini-album shared with Ryan Murphy (and countless guests of honor). The sounds could be his best ever, thanks to (finally) well-thought arrangements (Song Of Most, Fall And Rise On It).

Una colonna sonora composta da Oldham fornisce il materiale per l'EP strumentale Ode Music (Drag City, 2000). La musica e` scarna, soffice e ispirata dallo zen. La lunga Ode #1 ripete la stessa figura di chitarra e lo stesso drone d'organo. Anche gli altri frammenti sono imperniati sulla trance minimalista, con l'eccezione di Ode #2 e Ode #4 che secernono delicate melodie. Queste composizioni condividono la qualita` transcendente dei capolavori di John Fahey, ma non le ambizioni del grande chitarrista.
The EP Get On Jolly (2000) is a collaboration with Mick Turner of the Dirty 3.

Ease Down The Road (Palace, 2001) marked the return of Oldham's romantic alter ego, Bonnie Prince Billy. the six-minute funereal-paced Lion Lair, the whispered and waltzing A King At Night and the trotting Kenny Rogers-esque Ease Down The Road are sung with passion and humility, but the arrangement is too sparse so that neither voice nor instrument breathes life into the songs.

Amalgamated Sons of Rest (Galaxia, 2002) was a collaboration among Will Oldham, Jason Molina of Songs:Ohia and Alasdair Roberts of Appendix Out.

Despite its brief duration, Bonnie Prince Billy's Master And Everyone (Drag City, 2003) ranks among Oldham's best works, perhaps his only album that can fit on the same shelf next to Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt. A dark and subdued meditation on the meaning of life disguised as the chronicle of the end of a relationship, the entire album is whispered in what is effectively a vocal tour de force with the humblest of instrumental accompaniment. That whisper's inflection becomes an art of hushed croons (Master and Everyone, Wolf Among Wolves). It fits well with the tone of the stories, that range from stark, skeletal monologues (the dreamy and impalpable The Way, the quasi-hypnotic Even If Love, the lengthy and lifeless Forest Time that closes the album) emanating a sense of loneliness and emptiness, to religious parables (the soaring Hard Life, Maundering and especially the subtly anthemic Lessons From What's Poor), from Gram Parsons-ian odes (Ain't You Wealthy) to tormented confessions (Joy and Jubilee, which is nonetheless one of the catchiest numbers, Three Questions). This album is born of the supreme fusion of Woody Guthrie and Blind Lemon Jefferson, of Appalachian folk and gospel.

Oldham's EP Seafarers Music (Drag City, 2004) contains four mediocre instrumentals.

Bonnie Prince Billy revisited several Palace songs on Sings Greatest Palace Music (2004) giving them a Nashville-kind of sound.

Superwolf (Drag City, 2005) is a somber collaboration between Will Oldham and guitarist Matt Sweeney. Except for the Grateful Dead-esque shuffle My Home Is the Sea, the songs are simple but intense, eloquent but restrained. Bed is for Sleeping, Home is the Sea, Rudy Foolish flow like colloquial afterthoughts. Even when Oldham indulges in his metaphysical speculations (Goat and Ram) the music remain a model of balance and dignity.

Bonnie Prince Billy's Summer In The Southeast (Sea Note, 2005) and Wilding In The West (P-Vine, 2008) are live albums.

The Brave And The Bold (2005) was a collaboration between Tortoise and Bonnie "Prince" Billy via ten covers.

Bonnie Prince Billy's melodic and atmospheric zenith, The Letting Go (Drag City, 2006), spawned several country ditties: the quasi-yodeling litany Lay & Love, the lengthy, lamenting, Bob Dylan-esque Cursed Sleep, the nocturnal elegy I Called You Back with piano and trumpet, and especially the stately hymn Strange Form Of Life, with female backing vocals a` la Grace Slick (Dawn McCarthy). From the pensive Love Comes To Me to the lugubrious, martial and orchestral The Seedling this is Oldham's most versatile album yet. The variety borders on the eccentric: the ancestral Irish folk idiom of No Bad News, the fingerpicking Delta blues mode of Cold & Wet, the renaissance-dance manner of Big Friday, the languid raga-like hypnosis of God's Small Song, the fragile neoclassical lullabye Wai.

Ask Forgiveness (Drag City, 2007), instead, contains mostly covers.

Bonnie Prince Billy's Lie Down In The Light (Drag City, 2008) returned to the Nashville roots of his style, but the singer had thankfully become quite a bit more tuneful. In fact, this stood as one of his most exuberant works. Oldham's melodic inspiration shines again in the hummable refrain and bouncy folk-rock rhythm of Easy Does It, in the funereal singalong So Everyone, in the Donovan-esque lullabye Lie Down In The Light, in the pastoral and slightly psychedelic shuffle of Keep Eye On Other's Gain and in the anthemic gospel I'll Be Glad that closes the album on a serene note. Each of these lively ditties segues into a more melancholy and subdued litany. and too often he gets bogged down in his original lamenting and anemic style.

Lush orchestration took the place of the old spartan ambience on Beware (Drag City, 2009), Oldham's seventh album under the moniker Bonnie Prince Billy, and the most "baroque" of the series. A new backing band (Josh Abrams of Town and Country, Jennifer Hutt, Emmett Kelly of the Cairo Gang, and Michael Zerang) and countless guests (including Leroy Bach from Wilco, Jon Langford from the Mekons, Rob Mazurek of the Chicago Underground duo, Nicole Mitchell of the Exploding Star Orchestra, and Azita) helped to create a mildly creative hodge-podge of arrangements. Unfortunately, an enhanced sonic experience does not always translate into enhanced musical skills. While there are certainly captivating moments, such as Beware Your Only Friend, a mellow lullaby that turns into a soaring gospel with female backup choir, You Don't Love Me, a fast-paced country-rocking with trumpet and female backup choir, and especially I Am Goodbye, the catchiest and simplest tune, in between a bluegrass hoedown and a John Denver singalong, the main attraction of the album is the way the instruments breath life into songs, whether it's the subdued dirge Without Word You Have Nothing (with sax, violin, tambourine, trumpet), or the haunting bluesy Afraid Ain't Me (with flute, trumpet and tabla), or the choral waltzing lament Death Final (with mandolin, violin, piano), or the languid country-tinged ode You Can't Hurt Me Now (with xylophone and trumpet).

Funtown Comedown (Sea Note, 2009), credited to Bonnie Billy & The Picket Line, delved into bluegrass.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D’Onofrio)

Guarapero (Drag City, 2000) è un doppio album che raccoglie rarità.

All Most Heaven (Drag City, 2000) è un mini album condiviso con Ryan Murphy (ed innumerevoli ospiti d’onore). I suoni potrebbero essere fra i suoi migliori in assoluto, grazie ad arrangiamenti (finalmente) studiati con cura (Song Of Most, Fall And Rise On It).

L’EP Get On Jolly (2000) è una collaborazione con Mick Turner dei Dirty Three.

Ease Down The Road (Palace, 2001) segna un ritorno all’alter ego romantico di Oldham, Bonnie Prince Billy. Lion Lair, A King At Night e Ease Down The Road sono cantate ed arrangiate superbamente e rappresentano un vertice artistico nella produzione di Oldham.

A dispetto della breve durata, Master And Everyone (Drag City, 2003) di Bonnie Prince Billy si piazza fra i migliori lavori di Oldham, forse l’unico fra i suoi album che potrebbe rientrare sullo scaffale con Leonard Cohen e Townes Van Zandt. L’intero album è sussurrato in un modo che è un vero e proprio tour de force vocale; è un’oscura e sottomessa meditazione sul senso della vita, trasfigurata sotto forma di cronaca della fine di una relazione. Quell’inflessione bisbigliata diventa l’arte delle grida soffocate (Master And Everyone) e degli ululati trattenuti (Wolf Among Wolves). Si sposa bene con il tono delle storie, che varia notevolmente: dal monologo crudo e scheletrico (The Way, Even If Love) che emana un senso di solitudine e vuoto interiore, alla parabola religiosa (Hard Life, Maundering e soprattutto Lessons From What’s Poor), dalle odi alla Gram Parsons (Ain’t You Wealthy) alle confessioni tormentate (Joy And Jubilee, Three Questions). Quest’album è nato dalla suprema fusione fra Woody Guthrie e Blind Lemon Jefferson, fra il folk Appalachiano ed il gospel.

 

L’EP di Oldham Seafarers Music (Drag City, 2004) contiene quattro mediocri strumentali.

Sings Greatest Palace Music (2004) contiene Sings Agnes, Queen Of Sorrow.

Superwolf (Drag City, 2005) è una tetra collaborazione tra Will Oldham ed il chitarrista Matt Sweeney. A parte il rimescolamento alla Grateful Dead My Home Is the Sea, le canzoni sono semplici ma intense, eloquenti ma frenate. Bed is for Sleeping, Home is the Sea, Rudy Foolish fluiscono come colloquiali ripensamenti. Persino quando Oldham indugia nelle sue speculazioni metafisiche (Goat And Ram) la musica resta un modello di equilibrio e dignità.

Summer In The Southeast (Sea Note, 2005) e Wilding In The West (P-Vine, 2008) sono album registrati dal vivo da Bonnie Prince Billy.

The Brave And The Bald (2005) è una collaborazione tra Bonnie Prince Billy ed i Tortoise, impegnati ad eseguire dieci cover.

Lo zenith melodico di Bonnie Prince Billy, The Letting Go (Drag City, 2006), ha prodotto diversi singoli: Cold & Wet, Lay & Love, Strange Form Of Life. Dalla riflessiva Love Comes To Me fino alla lugubre The Seeding, questo è finora il disco più versatile che Oldham abbia mai scritto. Ask Forgiveness (Drag City, 2007), invece, contiene più che altro delle cover. Lie Down In The Light (Drag City, 2008) segna un ritorno all’originale stile spartano, ma è monotono quanto può esserlo un’ora di musica.

Lie Down In The Light (Drag City, 2008) ritorna alle radici di Nashville dello stile di Bonnie Prince Billy, ma fortunatamente il cantante è diventato molto più intonato. L’ispirazione melodica di Oldham splende nuovamente nel ritornello canticchiabile e nel pimpante ritmo folk-rock di Easy Does It, nel funereo singalong So Everyone, nella ninna nanna alla Donovan di Lie Down In The Light, nel rimpasto pastorale e lievemente psichedelico di Keep Eye On Other's Gain e nell’inno gospel I'll Be Glad che chiude l’album su una nota serena. Ognuna di queste vivaci canzoncine è seguita da una litania più malinconica e pacata, e troppo spesso Oldham resta impantanato nel suo originale stile lamentoso e anemico.

Su Beware (Drag City, 2009), il settimo album di Oldham sotto il moniker Bonnie Prince Billy, una ricca orchestrazione, la piu` "barocca" della serie, ha preso il posto della vecchia atmosfera spartana. Una nuova band d’accompagnamento (Josh Abrams dei Town and Country, Jennifer Hutt, Emmett Kelly dei Cairo Gang, e Michael Zerang) e innumerevoli ospiti (inclusi Leroy Bach dei Wilco, Jon Langford dei Mekons, Rob Mazurek del Chicago Underground duo, Nicole Mitchell dell’Exploding Star Orchestra, e Azita) contribuiscono a creare un miscuglio di arrangiamenti abbastanza creativo. Sfortunatamente, l’esaltazione dell’esperienza sonica non si traduce in un aumento delle abilità musicali. Pur presentando dei momenti senza dubbio accattivanti, come Afraid Ain't Me, Beware Your Only Friend, I Am Goodbye, Death Final, e You Don't Love Me, il modo in cui gli strumenti infondono la vita nelle canzoni costituisce il principale fascino degli stessi brani, che si tratti del lamento funebre Without Word You Have Nothing (con sax, violino, tamburello, tromba) o dell’ode tinta di country You Can't Hurt Me Now (con xilofono e tromba).

Funtown Comedown (Sea Note, 2009), attribuito a Bonnie Billy & The Picket Line, si tuffa nel bluegrass.

Wonder Show of the World (2010) was a collaboration with Emmet Kelly's Cairo Gang.

More of his skeletal litanies surfaced on The Wondershow Of The World (2010), credited to Bonnie "Prince" Billy & the Cairo Gang, with the seven-minute That's What Our Love Is taking centerstage (not a difficult task given the mediocrity and uniformity of the material) and guitarist Emmett Kelly frequently stealing the show (Teach Me to Bear You). The same combo was credited for the single Island Brothers (Drag City), backed with the moving New Wonder.

Wolfroy Goes To Town (2011) marked a return of Bonnie Billy Prince to the somber atmosphere and spartan sound of I See A Darkness, as declared in the lengthy manifesto We Are Unhappy. The lively Quail and Dumplings steals the show, but the haunting No Match is more typical of the mood of the album.

Will Oldham sang on three songs of Brian Harnetty's Silent City (Atavistic) and got credited as co-author of the album, but the concept and the music are all by Harnetty.

The Marble Downs (2012) was a collaboration between Bonnie Billy Prince and Scottish folk band Trembling Bells that yielded one of Oldham's best garage-rock numbers ever, Ain't Nothing Wrong With a Little Longing. Lavinia Blackwell steals the show in I Made a Date and in the a cappella My Husband's Got No Courage in Him.

Bonnie Billy Prince's Master And Everyone (Drag City, 2012) is the second gloomiest album (and possibly the most subdued vocally) yet assembled by Oldham but it lacks the surgical concentration of I See a Darkness and instead relies on a bonfire-kind of warm melancholy (adequately emphasized by female backup vocalists).

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