Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
The Letting Go
What do you say to someone to whom everything you have in your arsenal has been said? Someone that has been through each of your irritating facets and has managed to stay there, always there. Someone who has willfully accepted every morsel that you cooked up, and told you it tasted unique and pure, like the morsels of no other. You say nothing, except that what you were going to say anyway. You rattle out some of the same old stories, toss in a new angle for fun, maybe even bellow at them a little, but you can't really come at it with an agenda.
Like the true fan I am, I assume Will Oldham is talking directly to me through the intermediary of his albums, and we have been through it all, so we are just chatting. Almost like a post-breakup conversation, or that awkward recanting of what's-been-going-on-anyway. I'm not sure why all you other people like him so much, since he is clearly talking to me in these records. Its very nice of him to give you the time of day, though.
The Letting Go is exactly what I was planning on doing with this particular art crush after Summer in the Southeast. It was good run. But here he comes with yet another soft blow like Ease On Down the Road and while I won't say I'm hooked again, I'm listening. The stories and the styles he presents here have all been aired out before, but the inclusion of Faun Fables' Dawn McCarthy and a well-placed string section adds some spice to the meatloaf. Noteable at first glance is the sexy swoon of "Cursed Sleep" the first single of the album. Oldham keeps the whine in check on this one, making it a quietly overblown AM 70's Gold classic. The strings throughout the record make it. I think string sections usually kill a record, indicating that the artist had too much money to spend (see Cat Power's latest). "Cold & Wet" is a great country-rock-blues ballad, his runneth off the rails sense of tune counter-pointing perfectly with the plinky-planky-plank coffeehouse guitar funk. "Big Friday" is a dulcet finger-picking exercise with McCarthy doing her best Joni Mitchell backup vocals. "God's Small Song" intones like grandfather clock in a haunted house, with ghosts whining in rounds overhead.
Oldham has rightly been called a master of atmosphere first, and I think that is evident here. None of the songs strike me with their lyrics or melody alone, but their ambiance sucks you into the ball of snakes writhing at the heart of his songs. The final track "Ebb Tide" with its somnambulant guitar lines and shimmering cymbals contributed from members of the Dirty Three (who were also responsible for Oldham's most sublime moment, the Get on Jolly and Get the Fuck on Jolly Live albums) is the dream you have when this low-key dusk record has lulled you into the darkness.
So, reading all this, maybe I'm not over him yet.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com