Rhythm & Views

Bonnie "Prince" Billy

There must be something in the water in Louisville, or at least in the stream that runs adjacent to the Oldham compound. As one of the most prolific indie-folk singer-songwriters of the last decade, Will Oldham, aka Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (previously known as the Palace Brothers, Palace Music, Palace Songs and just plain ol' Palace) has been releasing his brand of erie, quasi-religious backwoods folk music at a prolific rate in the last year.

First, two EP collaborations, one with Mick Turner of Dirty Three fame, then another with Drag City Records local Rian Murphy; both are worth a listen. Then, the guest appearance on Johnny Cash's new album for a rendition of Oldham's "I See A Darkness," which I have yet to hear, but doubt it fails to deliver.

Virtually all Oldham releases feature a revolving lineup of Louisville and Chicago scenesters, as well as one or a few of the Oldham brothers, as his backup band. Likewise, his albums comprised simple and laid-back folk ditties and feature Oldham's Neil Young-meets-John Denver vocals. Musically, Ease Down the Road features the addition of banjos and violins to broaden the sound (heretofore mostly consisting of guitar, bass, drums and keyboard), not to mention backup vocals by the equally weird filmmaker Harmony Korine (!), making this Oldham's best and most interesting work to date.

Ease sounds like taking a road trip through the Appalachians with Oldham as passenger and storyteller, each song being a story told along the way. But if you don't listen closely, you'll miss all the details, the hills and valleys if you will, that make this trip so great.

Oldham's lyrics seem to fall into two categories: well-written poems describing either complete nonsense or that which makes sense only to him, and well-written poems describing the all-too-obvious. Both are framed by such themes as death, murder, sex, adultery, redemption and incest. You know, the light things in life.

On the title track, Oldham shows his knack for tackling the morose in his guilt-ridden (or is it guilt-free?) tale of seducing a married woman while taking her to visit her in-laws, which comes off as a light and happy-go-lucky song complete with plenty of "doo-doos" between verses. "A fireman her husband was / and so to give him duty / I duly tried to light a fire / upon his rightful booty."

"Sheep," on the other hand, is rather mysterious. "Born in sheep's blood plain and simple / washed out of my mother's temple / all around I heard them laughing / as father sheep had stood there calving."

On "A King at Night," however, Oldham proves that his songs don't have to be elaborately written to be effective. "She was a fine looking lady / and she liked to go down on me / and I liked to go down on her too / this is how I start another day in my kingdom." Yeah, me too.