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3.5 out of 5 stars
3.5 out of 5 stars
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on 26 March 2004
This release promises much. Will Oldham is one of the greatest songwriters around but his aversion to contemporary production values has never exactly increased the prospect of his spellbinding tales about horses, religion, incest and copulating mountains featuring on mainstream radio. On "Greatest Palace Music" he records a selection of his older tracks with an accomplished coterie of session musicians.
It is interesting to see which albums dominate: namely "Palace Brothers" (also known as "Days in the Wake") and "Viva Last Blues" which contribute five and four songs respectively. Suitably enough, given the enterprise at hand, the former of these albums was effectively Oldham's "Pink Moon", almost exclusively featuring only himself on acoustic guitar and voice. By comparison, "Viva" is probably Oldham's most off-putting sounding release which did actually mar soms of the stunning writing.
The paradox is that Oldham's cracked voice and stark sound is an integral part of his attraction and, wonderful though "Greatest Palace Music" is in parts, at times the upbeat reworkings are disfiguring (especially "I Send My Love to You" and "I am a Cinematographer"). In fact the standout tracks are ones which do not deviate greatly from the originals - the gorgeous "Riding" and ominous "the Brute Choir" and "More Brother Rides". In these and other tracks, Oldham's voice is intertwined with a number of purer, frequently female backers to occasionally hypnotic effect.
The instrumental flourishes are, for the main, well chosen - piano, pedal steel, violin feature throughout and "Viva Ultra" pulls off the most difficult trick in the book - a saxophone solo that does not sound awful.
My only reservation is that Oldham to some degree falls between two stools: the beauty of some tracks is lost in the radical workover while others do not reveal any particular hidden qualities of which discerning listeners were previously aware. That said, "Greatest Palace Music" is a fine introduction to a singular talent and will hopefully inspire many newcomers to investigate his back catalogue
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on 2 April 2004
What more can a ask for. Bonnie Billy returns, this time in full country garb, reworking some classic and some 'not so classic' gems from the Palace back catalogue. This is not a greatest hits! With tongue firmly in cheek, Bonnie Billy takes the cracked beauty of his earlier peons and lays on the sliding country twang with great aplomb. Sometimes dark, sometimes hilarious this collection of songs is a definite cheeky wink to his closest followers. So why just 4 stars? - With a back catalogue full of such revered and cherished songs, it's obviously dangerous to tamper with perfection. In many cases on this collection, the reworkings veer enough from the originals to avoid tainting them. The goose-stepping swing and honky tonk of "I am a cinematographer" will make you laugh throughout....However, the version of "New Partner" that opens the CD is painfully tuneless, losing the character and grace of the perfect original. While "Riding" also remains practically unchanged and unnecessary in it's inclusion. That said, I've played the CD 30 odd times over the last 48 I guess I like it!!..Bonnie Billy is still a million miles ahead of the competition.
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on 9 December 2007
I totally disagree with the poor review given this album by Karl B. This is a fantastic collection of reworked songs by Will Oldham - of his own old material. The weakest track on here is probabably the first track, 'New Partner', thereafter follows a wonderful collection of countrified Oldham material. 'Horses' and 'West Palm Beach' in particular are given a new poignancy. The sound of someone unafraid to give their own old material a new life. Excellent.
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on 25 March 2004
This is very much a preliminary review, since I've only had the album a few days, but I can already tell that it's a record I'm going to fall in love with. Will Oldham's last album, "Master and Everyone" was by some distance the musical highlight of 2003, a cracked voice singing quietly and peacefully of a variety of moods of love, from resignation to raging against the dying of the light. This has a different tone - where Master and Everyone was alt.folk, this one takes a sort of Nashville turn.
The very idea of an artist's alter-ego recording cover versions of songs done when he was recording as a different incarnation is cool as hell - the only way you could imagine it is if Ziggy Stardust were somehow doing an album of covers of Bowie's eighties big-suits and slick-hair songs like "China Girl"
The lyrics, as ever with Oldham, are full of wit, warmth, imagination and spite in equal measure - "If you have no-one, no-one can hurt you", being sung in a voice that really puts across how badly hurt you must have been to think like that, while still knowing the underlying foolishness of the sentiment.
It is very weird to hear Bonnie Prince Billy with music in the background though - where he's normally sparse, even minimal, in the musical arrangements, here there are pianos, guitars, even a bit of jollity in the music, proper Nashville country stuff. His voice, which I understand he deliberately strains by mistuning his guitar to get that sound of effort and crackedness, is as compelling as ever, he sounds in places quite like Van Morrison.
I don't like Nashville country, I don't like Van Morrison, but I absolutely adore this. If you've never heard any Bonnie Prince Billy, go for Master and Everyone first, but if you bought that and liked it, this is certainly well worth the money. Some albums you buy and know that you'll still be listening to in a year's time, and this is one of them.
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on 2 March 2015
I don't understand the negativity over this superb CD. I know for some it is a sacrilege to mess around with the Palace originals but he wrote them and can do whatever he likes surely? And what he does is more than give them a quick lick of paint but the songs take on new life. Not a dud track and a must have in any CD collection.
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on 14 October 2005
I really wasn't sure about this album at first, but it has become one that I return to again and again. Even if you are a purist and love the original versions of the tracks, give these reworkings a chance - you won't regret it.
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on 25 March 2004
'Greatest Palace Music' collects together tracks from Will Oldham's huge back catalogue of releases but with the added twist of Oldham re-recording them in the slighty more commercial style of his Bonnie 'Prince' Billy alter-ego.
The melanchonic country style is an attracitve one and works well with the multitude of instruments surrounding it. There are moments on Greatest Palace Music ("You Will Miss Me When I Burn", "The Brute Choir") of stark emotion; gaps and holes occasionally filled with light; a fragmented voice grafted onto the back of Oldham's haggard head; where even the slide solo is condensed and whimpering. But, for the most part, the shambling, stately pallbearer pace is replaced with a bouncing, undeviating, and totally inappropriate luster.
Gulf Shores" climbs toward a swarm of overlapping voices in perfect harmony, robotically in sync. On "Pushkin", Oldham preaches The Word with a shell-shocked, Appalachian puberty that caricatures itself, and holds its springing slow-jazz drabness in contempt. It's not just polished; it's fabricated, deceitful, condescending, belittling.
All this leaves you with a higly emotional and provactive record which needs to be heard.
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on 28 March 2004
If you've never heard this artist before (or have but found him too stark) then this album is a great way to start.Well produced and countrified its sad without being bleak, accessible without being eager. Too many stand out tracks to name, just let it seep into you.
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on 18 April 2012
If you like great country music in the Gram Parsons/Emmy Lou Harris mold and you cross that with the great voice and lyrics of Bonnie Prince Billy then you will love this album. I wish I had discovered it earlier because I can't stop playing it. In my opinion every single track is a winner. I don't totally understand the neg reviews of this album but then I was never into nor have i even heard the originals of these songs. I just love good country music and I love Bonnie Prince Billy. So here you get two for the price of one.
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on 24 April 2008
This sounds like a nicely skewed idea: dark songs given the full Nashville treatment. But, with a couple of exceptions, the songs aren't up to it, his voice is weak, and the playing is dull. So it fails on both counts.

You end up with music promoting two things you should never try: incest and line-dancing.
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