The prolific prince of the indescribable, Will Oldham has shapeshifted his way through album after album of delicately profound Americana. It's often said that the mark of genius is the ability to be unbearably moving with very little, and Oldham's shortcomings as a singer and musician are also his greatest strengths. His music is elusive, resisting categorisation: you can call it folk, you can call it alt/country, but Superwolf, last year's collaboration with Matt Sweeney, was all smouldering sexuality and yearning blues.
This album is cooler and sweeter, recorded in Reykjavik under the aegis of Bjork collaborator Valgier Sigurdsson. The arrangements are more complex than perhaps we're used to from a Prince Billy album - strings, flugelhorn and piano spin a subtle but strong tracery of shapes around the musical themes. Singer Dawn McCarthy of Faun Fables provides an airy soprano counterpoint to Oldham's fragile growl, adding a clearer outline to many of the odder melodies.
The songs are as various as ever. Album opener Love Comes To Me is almost unbearable tender, breathing belief in human love in a world where religious faith has been lost. Cold and Wet has a bluesy, lubricious feel. No Bad News is redolent of 70s golden-age folk, Oldham's close-miked murmured intimacy contrasting with McCarthy's layered birdsong. Strange Form of Life has such a powerful instrumental hook that it seems more like a lead-off single than the haunted, Superwolf-like Cursed Sleep.
After a bit of a mid-section sag, the album really hits its stride again with the earthily rhythmic Seedling. The track which follows, Then The Letting Go is utterly exquisite, with McCarthy's vocal responses soaring like Sandy Denny's in The Battle of Evermore.
Perhaps the most accessible Bonnie Prince Billy album so far, The Letting Go will bewitch both old and new enthusiasts of Will Oldham's beguiling and inexplicable talent.
as published at subba-cultcha.com