It is hard not to commence any review of a new Bonnie Pince Billy album with a statement of the "bleeding obvious" that Will Oldham is one of the most prolific artists alive and it begs the question in turn whether his productivity actually works against him? The sheer weight of the music he releases could be daunting for anyone approaching the former Palace Brother. Check out his multiple collaborations, cameo appearances on other records and his stout refusal to detour from the basic template of his musical vision and you find an intriguing and uncompromising artist but one who will probably never trouble the charts to any significant level. Indeed that would never be a primary concern for Oldman who is perfectly content to plough his own furrow (albeit a very wide furrow) and consistently produce albums of searing quality but also tender introspection. People usually point to his masterwork "I See Darkness" as the entry point into his work, but my personal favourite is "Master and Everyone" a great austere beauty and displaying the tender beguiling song writing that we have come to expect from Oldham. On that album's title track and songs like "Ain't you wealthy ain't you wise" he can appear quaint at first but keep listening the subtle phrasing and perfect economy demonstrates Oldham's complete mastery and depth on repeated plays.
On his new album "The Wonder of the World" with the Cairo Gang namely long-standing guitarist Emmett Kelly some of the mood and feel of "Master and Everyone" is present. The opener "Troublesome houses" starts with the immortal lines "I once loved a girl, but she couldn't take that I visited troublesome houses, she'd say when I got home, to leave her alone" which is typical Oldham both tender and flawed. "Teach you to bear me" is a almost bluesy rock ballad with an nice solo by Kelly. One of the albums highlights follow "With cornstalks or amongst them" is a a slightly harsh electric and haunting hymnal with a slow pace but high on emotion and great backing vocals from Kelly. Its superb stuff as is the albums centre piece the 7 minute plus aching acoustic ballad "That's what our love is" with the pace picking up towards the end of the song and you could imagine Gillian Welch and David Rawlings doing a brilliant cover of this. Other highlights include "Someone coming through" we see Oldham prepared to bare his thoughts with an honesty that most singers can never muster and the brilliant harmonies on this song reach almost Fleet Foxes proportions. The earlier the "Sounds they are begging" is a fragile song of domestic disharmony with brilliant vocal and lyrics -
"My wife turned crazy on me one day; started chopping up the bed.
Looked past me with gaping eyes. Left me too hard to be scared.
She left, but circled the yard.
All night she haunted the home.
The kids went crazy, life was hard."
Will ""the wonder show of the world" propel Oldham into some kind of more mainstream acceptance? The answer is sadly no, although I doubt that Oldham will be that troubled by this fact. Over some 15 albums he has persistently proved to be one of the greatest singer songwriters alive and plying his trade in his own distinctive way has been his hallmark. With a corpus of brilliant work this large he stands direct comparison to other giants of the genre and with albums as good as the "Wonder show of the world" he proves that album sales are not only the mark of a wizard and a true star.
on 16 June 2011
This has had some mixed reviews but, while not up to the standard of The Letting Go, it is still a very good release. It's a 'mature sounding' record with a lush, laid-back feel, so I guess it was never going to sit well with the people still holding out for another 'I See A Darkness' . I think that songs like "Go Folks, Go", "The Sounds Are Always Begging" & the affecting closer "Kids" are as good as anything he's done. This is Will Oldham's 3rd studio album in the space of three years and all are worth owning!