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Bonnie Prince Billy's Beware - Is That Scary?

Posted by Miss Ess, April 24, 2009 04:50pm | Post a Comment
Bonnie Prince Billy's prolific, unrelenting output sort of forces me to prolifically blog about him -- he's one of the few present day artists whose work I always seek out, and consistantly his albums are nothing short of incredible...so here we are again.

bonnie prince billy beware

This time, however, I had my doubts at first; now that I have had a few weeks to settle in with Bonnie Prince Billy, aka Will Oldham's latest, Beware, plus seen him perform material from it live, I am starting to get more and more into it. At first all the production work and the over the top backing vocals were getting in the way ofbonnie prince billy my enjoyment of the record, but now the goodness of the songs has seeped into my brain and I've noticed I have tracks from Beware stuck in my head constantly, which is usually the most inescapable way of knowing when something is getting to me.

I think it's weird that the media is labeling this album "mature," and calling it his move toward a more "popular" sound...it's just plain wrong, really, because if anyone in the biz has just been doing exactly what he goddamn pleases, thank you very much, in his music for going on two decades, it's been Will Oldham. The media onslaught he's brought upon us for this record is, I believe, him trying to help sell records for Drag City's sake; it's not a ploy to catch the attention of the mainstream. Thabonnie prince billyt is something Oldham has never courted with any real commitment, or, in my opinion, any actual interest whatsoever. Oldham seems truly happy following his own muse, and I, for one, am continually ecstatic to listen to the result-- over the top backing vocals or not!

This album was apparently inspired in part by Elvis' 70s period, hence that slick, over the top aspect I keep referring to. When I first listened and was off-put by the production, at least I felt I understood the meaning behind the sonic choice. Sometimes it can be freeing and fun to go over the top (see: Bonnie Prince Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music)...and over time, the songs' pure melodies, inescapable ragged glory, and Oldham's typical lyrical charms worked their magic on me, as always. 

The live show the other night at the Fillmore was fantastic. Oldham brought his singular energy, dressed all in white, even his fingernails a matching hue. As in his music, his onstage presence feels less about the audience and its desires and more about whatever it is that is going on in his brain as he feels his way through each song. In what can only be called the most overly self-conscious era of all time, Oldham, despite his penchant for eyeliner, remains utterly unaffected as he stands stork-like on one leg, twists his face and lifts his arms high over his head in abandon. His eager band, starring perennial underground fave Jim White of Dirty Three as the drummer, brought the songs, both new and old, to great heights. Jim White's arms while drumming can only bjim white of dirty threee described as octopus-like -- he brings them up, around, and over there all at once with a seemingly slowed-down, underwater grace, enhancing the music. The only thing that tells of the labor it takes to keep that beat going is the at first tiny, then growing, growing spot of sweat that eventually took over White's entire shirt as the night wore on. Another player highlighting the band is Cheyenne Mize, who adds fine fiddle and strong harmony vocals. Mize and Oldham have recently released a 10" together entirely of tracks from 1915 or before, like "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and "Beautiful Dreamer." It's called Among the Gold. Hopefully it will be available at Amoeba soon; until then, check out two tracks here. And nab yourself a copy of Beware.

For all the images from Bonnie's recent Amoeba Hollywood instore, click here.

Relevant Tags

Cheyenne Mize (1), Jim White (3), Beware (1), Will Oldham (13), Bonnie Prince Billy (17), Among The Gold (1), Drag City (14)