Sunday, August 31, 2008

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Letting Go (J)

At first thought, with a stage name like "Bonnie 'Prince' Billy" and having the label "Alternative-Country," Will Oldham's music could only spell trouble for the country-despising country that we live in (save Texas). I was expecting some sort of "hootenanny" with some bluegrass banjo, fiddle, perhaps a jug or two playing in the background.

Yet again, I was wrong (it tends to happen to me a lot).

A cousin of mine (who, incidentally, got me into the band Low, whose CD "Drums & Guns" I have reviewed for this month) told me to check out Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, and due to my cousin's supreme musical awesomeness, I could no longer put off my intrigue with Mr. Oldham's strangely-named side project. And I must say, I am eternally grateful to my cousin Suzanne for helping me out.

When it comes to B'P'B, the label "alternative country" confuses me. Yes, there are some rather east-Texas-y vocal harmonies in "Cursed Sleep" and the rather Southern Blues-y-ness of "Cold & Wet" may give Mr. Oldham's release a rather country-like atmosphere, but overall this release is much more performed "an hommage" to singer-songwriter greats Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, and Bert Jansch.

Lyrics on this release are much different than the rest of the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy discography, which deal more with metaphorical sexual images. "The Letting Go" tends to deal with more tender, cute, "lovesy" lyrics; almost like a love poem. A great example of the "sweet" characteristic of the lyrics can be seen in my personal favorite track, "A Strange Form of Life":

"and the softest lips ever
25 years of waiting to kiss them
smiling and waiting
to bend down and kiss twice
the softest lips."

Will's voice for most of the CD is a calm, almost spoken-yet-still-sung crooning voice, reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, though, at times in songs such as "Cursed Sleep" and "The Seedling," he lets his voice soar on its raw emotional power.

Musically, "The Letting Go" is very diverse. Normally, Oldham would release a disc with either the soft, Nick Drake-esque string-accompanied songs, or the more American folk-y songs (ranging from Appalachian folk to Western-tinged folk, reminiscent to that of the aforementioned Steve von Till), yet on this release, Oldham mixes up his writing styles, which is a treat.

On this release, Oldham is joined by Psychedelic Folk artist Faun Fables, also known as Dawn McCarthy, on harmonies. Ms. McCarthy's harmonic sense is amazing, and her voice complements Oldham's voice perfectly. Her range is rather large, ranging from the mid-range/low tones of "Wai" to the shockingly high notes of "Strange Form of Life." Dawn's voice creates a feeling of wholeness - a complement or second half. Considering this release deals more with emotional love as opposed to physical, having a woman alongside Oldham really helps the "love" idea succeed.

Overall, currently "The Letting Go" is one of my favorite albums. I recommend listening to this release and just letting your emotions run wild.

For fans of: Nick Drake, Steve von Till, Agalloch (The White EP), Buffalo Springfield, America, Neil Young, Woven Hand, 16 Horsepower, Iron & Wine, and Low

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