Will Oldham: One Man, Many Names

Posted by Miss Ess, October 19, 2007 02:00pm | Post a Comment
will oldham bonnie prince billy

Someone's been very kind to me today:  I received a package in the mail chock full of Bonnie Prince Billy bootlegs and singles!  Very exciting day, and how perfect is it that it's drizzling and grey out?  It's ideal for BPB listening, at least to me for whatever reason.

That's not to say his music is depressing though.  It can be dark, but for the most part for me it's actually uplifting and really almost unbeatable.  It's got a loose feel to it, a risky feeling.  Feels like everything's on the brink of falling apart, but it never does.  Fantastic.

matt sweeney will oldham esalen bonnie prince billy superwolf In case you are unaware, Bonnie Prince Billy goes under many names, so his albums can be difficult to find and collect.  Some of these names/projects include: Palace, Palace Brothers, Palace Songs, Bonnie Billy, and Will Oldham (his real name).  He also collaborates often with others, like Amalgamated Sons of Rest, Matt Sweeney (that's Matt in the pics on the left and below), David Pajo and, more recently, Tortoise.  Oh yeah and he just contributed vocals to a record by Scout Niblett as well!  You can see how it's tough to keep up with the guy.  Oh yeah, and some of his best songs can be found on out of print 45s.

These bootlegs I just got are from the I See A Darkness and Ease Down The Road period.  I LOVE Isuperwolf bonnie prince billy matt sweeney will oldham See A Darkness, and Ease Down the Road is a solid record for him.  He's put out so many, you see!  His output can be fairly staggering to the uninitiated.  I'll try to break down a few of my favorites at the end of the post.

Will Oldham takes a lot of chances with his live shows and also with his records.  I love having the feeling that he's just working on whatever pleases him and that's precisely what he puts out.  He doesn't care what the audience thinks.  At all.  At his live shows you may hear songs that you think you've never heard, only to realize 5 min in it's your favorite song, just so reworked it's almost unrecognizable!  You may hear him singing about going down on his girlfriend.  He may sing about death and dying.  Nothing's off limits.

One of my favorite songs is "Madeline Mary" from I See A Darkness.  It's a sea shanty, a dirge about the one extraordinary woman aboard a stormy watered ship surrounded by lecherous men.  Here's a performance of it.  It sounds quite different on the album, but I like this a lot too:

Here are just a couple of my favorite records by BPB (in order of release):

days in the wake palace music will oldham


Days In The Wake - 1994 - Palace Brothers

i see a darkness bonnie prince billy album cover will oldham

I See A Darkness - 1999 - Bonnie Prince Billy

superwolf bonnie prince billy matt sweeney will oldham

Superwolf - 2005- Bonnie Prince Billy & Matt Sweeney

And if you made it this far, check out this little treat, Will covering Bill Withers.  He also recorded a cover of this track and, again, it sounds COMPLETELY different here.  I actually like this YouTube one much better:

carly simon
When I had the great pleasure of meeting Will Oldham, I instantly noticed he had the kind of eyes that make you feel like they can see right through you.  Interacting with him was an odd experience, hard to describe.  We sang Carly Simon songs together in the pop vocals section.  It was a good day.

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