Bonnie “Prince” Billy | Quail and Dumplings (Drag City)

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It is dark yet bright, American yet international, calm yet excited, much like the man himself.

 

The predictably unpredictable Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s (Will Oldham) latest EP Quail and Dumplings displays a combination of whimsy, gloom, and the absurd. The three-track release covers as much ground as entire careers of less-prolific artists, while avoiding schizophrenia.Oldham’s gentle voice howls and croons over cascading walls of guitars and piano. The songs bounce from one genre to another, in a seamless display of variety and virtuosity.

The title track starts with a familiar low-end rumbling from an acoustic guitar. Oldham’s voice gracefully glides in, half-whispering the first verse: “Holes in our ceiling, holes in our roof/ Hope that we’ve got it made, are gone in a poof/ When’s it gonna be a turn in the tide/ when we gonna see we’ve got God on our side.?”

The gloomy track then shuffles into a jaunty cadence, with a two-step rhythm accompanied by female backing vocals. It follows this back-and-forth pattern for a while before gracefully fading back into the ether.

It’s hard not to take this gloom-and-joy pattern as an allegory for the artistic personage Bonnie “Prince” Billy himself, who’s often quick-witted and playful before abruptly being apocalyptic and somber. This sense of whimsy is what makesOldhamso consistently entertaining and interesting.

The last song is a cover of Darren Beitez’s “E Iesu/Maika’i No.” The Hawaiian sing-a-long is re-imagined withOldham’s howls drifting over a stand-up bass and slide guitar. The lazy tempo staggers ahead like a bar anthem meant to usher the inebriates into the parking lot.Oldham’s vocals are carefree but subtly forlorn as he crackles through the Hawaiian chorus in falsetto.

In a vacuum, this EP appears to be a unique blend of traditional American folk and unflinching idiosyncrasy. In a larger context, Quail and Dumplings is just the latest in a long line of offerings from the accomplished and atypical folk singer. It is dark yet bright, American yet international, calm yet excited, much like the man himself. I’d expect nothing less. B | Glen Elkins

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