Bonnie “Prince” Billy | Beware (Drag City)

cd_bonnie-prince.jpgI have always preferred him when he sounded like the untrained alt-country singer.

 

 

I’ve been stuck up the ass of Will Oldham for many years now, but recently he’s started to lose me. Somewhere around Greatest Palace Music, his 2004 abortion that had him bastardizing all of his best old songs in a faux-country mockery, we started parting ways in our musician/rabid fan relationship; each album since, barring a few barely released gems (the import-only live album Wilding in the West and the limited freebie Little Lost Blues), has found him straying further and further down the path of the trained country singer. I have always preferred him when he sounded like the untrained alt-country singer, the best examples of which were the albums he released as Palace Music and Palace Brothers. Even last year’s otherwise critically acclaimed Lie Down in the Light never really did it for me, kind of at all—in fact, the only song he’s written since 2003’s Master & Everyone that I’d go so far as to say I like is The Letting Go‘s creepy builder "The Seedling."

His newest album is Beware, out now from Drag City, and you can tell somebody likes it, as it seems that DC is giving it a rather notable push: Oldham is going on a pretty extensive tour for it, it found its way onto NPR, etc. And while it does continue in the country direction that I’d rather not see him take, Beware is far and away the best of his recent period albums. That isn’t to say that Beware is anywhere near as coherent as the Will Oldham classics, such as Bonnie "Prince" Billy’s I See a Darkness or Palace Music’s Viva Last Blues or Lost Blues & Other Songs. Really, only maybe a quarter of Beware is as good as I want it to be and the rest sounds more or less like Lie Down in the Light—but still, those three songs are enough for me to cling to desperately.

The best song here is a tough call. I’m partial to "You Don’t Love Me," which has the aforementioned "The Seedling" swell (which he perfected with Darkness‘s "Nomadic Revery (All Around)"), but this time instead of impending doom the buildup pays off soon and with goofy lyrics, such as "You say you like my eyes only/ Or just the way I giggle/ Sometimes you like the smell of me/ Or how my stomach jiggles/ But you don’t love me… " Equally good is "I Am Goodbye," which maybe doesn’t have as memorably silly lyrics, but is catchy and fun in a way that I’m not really used to from Oldham.

Calmer but still enjoyable is the album opener "Beware Your Only Friend," which accurately summates the album, as it sounds distinctly like Oldham on one of his country forays that I’ve come to dread, but despite sounding like that, it is markedly better, so as to maybe let the listener get their hopes up. He at least partially rewards those who allow "Beware Your Only Friend" to get the better of them and give the album the benefit of the doubt. Now if he can only return to the (admittedly tall) order of making an album full of songs like this, like how he did so reliably for so many years… B | Pete Timmermann

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