Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Master & Everyone (Drag City)

Not every track is fantastic, as they were on Viva Last Blues and I See a Darkness, but many of them are.

It is almost a trademark of Will Oldham (the man behind Bonnie “Prince” Billy, as well as Palace Music, Palace Brothers, and all kinds of other needless moniker changes) to have one song on each CD that is an immediate standout, that operates in such a way as to distract listeners from how good the rest of the album is, at least until they get more familiar with it and find that every song is usually great. For example, on Palace Music’s 1995 release Viva Last Blues, it was “New Partner.” On the following year’s Arise, Therefore, it was “The Weaker Soldier.” 2001’s Bonnie “Prince” Billy release Ease Down the Road found “Just to See My Holly Home” as its album’s main distraction. And on the new Bonnie release, Master & Everyone, it is the first track, “The Way.”

While Viva and Arise both proved themselves upon further listens, Ease never quite could, and it finds itself among Will’s biggest disappointments, especially considering its release’s status as follow-up to what many argue was his best CD, 1999’s I See a Darkness (which, oddly enough, did not have the one standout track as described above). Much to the celebration of the growing number of Bonnie fans out there, Master & Everyone is a return to Oldham’s successes of the past, if on a slightly smaller scale. Not every track is fantastic, as they were on Viva Last Blues and I See a Darkness, but many of them are. “The Way” aside, highlights of the album include “Wolf Among Wolves,” “Hard Life,” and the title track. “Hard Life” becomes particularly affecting once gotten used to, as it is a prime example of what Oldham does best: breaking free from his backup to howl in a sad yet upbeat way that sounds borderline untrained, all the while very underproducedly strumming his guitar and keeping the rhythm by doing something that sounds like stamping his foot. The most outwardly catchy song on the CD, “Joy and Jubilee,” is, unfortunately, probably the worst track (although the worst track on a Will Oldham CD is better than the best track on CDs by similar bands such as Silver Jews or Iron & Wine). This all makes for a nice, succinct, terrific album that Will Oldham fans have not really been waiting very long for, as he is always busy hiding behind other band names and releasing songs in a prolific manner it is impossible to keep up with. Besides, as far as his straightforward, Bonnie “Prince” Billy releases go, he only digressed for one album, and even it wasn’t too disappointing.

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