Posts Tagged ‘will oldham’
Today marks the end of National Short Story Week and I actually did read quite a bit of short fiction, including two great stories about the sea.
First up, ‘Drawn Up From Deep Places’ by Gemma Files. This is part of my continued read-through of Beneath Ceaseless Skies and is exactly the sort of ‘Literary Adventure Fantasy’ I’ve been searching for. It is part of a series so I’m looking forward to going back to read ‘Two Captains’ as well as future installments.
Next, ‘The Mussel Eater’ by Octavia Cade. I only discovered Cade earlier in the year but she has had a prolific and impressive 2014. ‘The Mussel Eater’ is shorter and sharper than most of the other work she published this year but is wonderful to have. Equally wonderful to have is Book Smugglers Publishing.
As well as reading, I also made a rare excursion outside the house to see Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy at my old local church, St John’s in Hackney. I hadn’t read anything about the gig in advance so was surprised and pleased to see he was joined by Matt Sweeney which meant we were treated to this rendition of ‘My Home Is The Sea’:
Will Oldham is an awkward bastard and I love him for it. His band (including double bass and fiddle) clump in the middle of the stage whilst he prowls around the edge. He has no idea what to do with his hands. The music is relaxed and playful though.
This was a much better gig than last time I saw him. Obviously it leaned strongly towards the more recent material which is good because Beware feels like an album that wants to be performed live. The barnstorming instinct to progressively increase the tempo is sometimes a bit wearing but generally suits. This more straightforward country approach works surprisingly well for the songs on The Letting Go too, rendering a melancholy bunch of songs into something much more forceful.
Moving further backwards through the catalogue means greater re-invention of existing material. We get a good chunk of Ease Down The Road which includes a manic thrash through Sheep and a mournful waltz through Grand Dark Feeling Of Emptiness but also some more indifferent overhauls. Even further back and there is breath-taking version of I See A Darkness which is one of the few times he embraces the stripped down sound of a lot of his recorded music. All in all it was a whirlwind tour through a very diverse collection of songs played in a pretty diverse range of styles.
(The less said about Susanna, the support act, the better. The lead singer had a decent set of lungs but no idea what to do with them and all three played their instruments like they were wearing gloves and performing at a funeral. The highlighted their deficiencies with a leaden version of Oldham’s Joy And Jubilee and what was pretty much a massacre of one of my favourite songs, Who Knows Where The Time Goes?)
Once upon a time I read the NME and Melody Maker every Thursday, read all the monthlies, hung out on mailing lists and Usenet, scoured the internet for information about obscurities, made a weekly pilgrimage to Selectadisc and religiously read the weekly Rough Trade mailout. Now I buy about four albums a year and I need Dan Hartland to remind me that a new Will Oldham record is out.
I bought Beware the other week but I’ve only just had a chance to listen to it properly. I was surprised when Dan tagged his post americana because this is not a style Oldham is really associated with, apart from his deliberate and brilliant country pastiche of his own music on Greatest Palace Music, but yes, that’s what this is. As By Fuselage puts it:
Ever since adopting the name Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Will Oldham has seemed to be searching for a balance between the darkness, and occasionally unsettling oddness, of his music with a brighter, more welcoming production style. Whilst 2001’s sexy and relaxed Ease Down The Road may be the most successful of these efforts so far, Bonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music might prove the most instructive when approaching his new album Beware
Oldham is a bit of a joker. I am off to see him at the Queen Elizabeth Hall next week. Last time I saw him there he was performing in the persona of an unholy blend of Chuck Berry and Hank Williams which was frankly neither anticipated or welcome. As with his recordings, you take what comes and he is clearly made uncomfortable by expectations.
This versatility and unpredictablity is a great strength, it is a produced an eclectic string of albums I keep coming back to again and again. I probably won’t listen to Beware as regularly as Ease Down The Road or Lie Down In The Light but I don’t think this makes it any less of an album than, say, Master And Everyone, the antithesis of this in terms of production. My major complaint is that Oldham’s voice is often hemmed in by horns and backing vocals and the like (‘I Won’t Ask Again’ is pretty soupy) when really it should be allowed to stand out in all its ragged glory.
Dan has also been listening to It’s Blitz, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album. He concludes by saying that they “remain one of the most intelligent and compelling acts to trip towards the mainstream.” This is true but I wished they had tripped a little less in that direction. Unlike Beware, I do find this a bit too polished. It is only on songs like ‘Dull Life’ – a song Pitchfork describe as generic (“Franz-Bloc-Killers modern rock riff”: spot the odd one out) – that it comes alive and I don’t think it is a coincidence that this is when Karen O’s voice and Nick Zimmer’s guitar are back to their old sparring.
Thanks to Matt Cheney for pointing out the Bonnie “Prince” Billy Daytrotter Session, four free session tracks from Will Oldham. In particular the version of ‘The Seedling’ is much better than the original album version on The Letting Go (although this version of ‘New Partner’ isn’t anything special.)