3 September 2008

Album Review: Bonnie Prince Billy

(From my archives 2008)

Bonnie Prince Billy
'Is It The Sea?'
(Domino Records)

the genre juggling prince of starkness

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy  is the persona of American singer/songwriter Will Oldham. Before adopting this guise Oldham had already carved himself a healthy place in the corridors of musical conscience beginning with the 1993 debut ‘There Is No One What Will Take Care Of You’ then concluding pre Billy, with 1997’s ‘Joya’ album. The birth of current moniker came two years later when first Prince Billy album ‘I See A Darkness’ was released.  The march of this nom de guerre has been such a triumphant one it has brought him to this, his 10th album.

Recorded live in Scotland, Ireland and Newcastle in the spring of 2006 it finds the Bonnie Prince in the company of Edinburgh’s finest Celtic ensemble Harem Scarem who lend some stunning harmonies to the occasion as well as mood enhancing moments of fiddle, flute and banjo. He has also enlisted the wares of UK percussionist Alex Neilson (Jandek. Six Organs Of Admittance. Isobel Campbell) as reliable provider of the beat. With such  talented personnel in his employment known for making incredibly good music in their own right anyway, not to mention it being tailor made for the purposes of a Prince Billy song, the transition from record to live performance is a beautiful and mystical thing to witness. His impressive back catalogue is dipped into, quite rightly, in a generous but sympathetic way.  Within the haunting atmospherics of this though, they seem to stir the passion in a different way. Certainly the usually serene like ‘Master And Everyone’ suddenly grows up in front of your eyes and brims with a confidence this setting gifts it. Similar examples of such a coming of age wonder can be heard in ‘Wolf Among Wolves’.  The traditional ‘Molly Bawn’ is quite possibly the stand out track though, thanks mainly to the presence Eilidh Shaw (Harem Scarem)  brings.This is definitely his most sympathetic embrace of the mainstream. The songs are more accessible in this guise of folk driven storytelling. But whichever way he decides to go will never be at the expense of a compromise but rather an extended invitation to new friends.