By: Geoff Topley
Bonny Billy | bandcamp |
Released on May 8, 2016 via Temporary Residence Ltd.
Not long after Will Oldham gave the world the debut Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy album I See A Darkness, he released an e.p. entitled More Revery as Bonny Billy on the excellent label, Temporary Residence Ltd. Recorded live in one take at brother Paul’s Rove Studio, the e.p., covering songs from artists from around the world, subsequently had a re-issue the following year with alternative mixes and crowd noise removed. In celebration of TRL’s twentieth anniversary, the album has been re-issued and re-mastered for vinyl and digital updates. I sincerely hope I have explained that properly, my multiple sources of research causing my head to hurt following the chronological order of proceedings.
As I have found with most of Oldham’s Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy releases, there’s some brilliance involved counterbalanced with some endurance testing moments. Taking the “studio” version of the tracks first, the brevity of opener ‘Someone’s Sleeping’ making for a sketchy idea of a song that doesn’t really get going before it’s gone. PJ Harvey’s ‘Sweeter Than Anything’ receives a full band backing with clattering xylophone, Oldham sounding off with wild abandon.
The superb yearning vocal delivery on Bill Wither’s ‘Same Love That Made Me Laugh’ is impassioned and emotive. Oldham’s band give a loose performance that is in-line with Oldham’s ramshackle vocals. Just when the album is starting to feel like a collection of curios along comes this perfectly formed country rocker full of hooks and wonder. It is ‘A Dream of the Sea’, originally by The Renderers. I have to give a special mention to the utterly mesmerising guitar work in the mid-section. Add this track to the box marked “Sublime Will Oldham” songs (albeit a cover version).
The aptly named ‘Strange Things’ is a meandering track with heavily treated underwater vocals and warped instrumentation. Drums only make a fleeting appearance at the beginning and end. Thankfully, there is another outlet of excellence to follow in Tim McGraw’s ‘Just To See You Smile’, add this one to the box of splendour too. Endearing and affecting, Oldham’s knack of creeping you out while simultaneously tugging on your heartstrings very much to the fore. Reigning in the warbling histrionics it’s a lovely little country (unrequited?) love song.
It’s the original “live” versions though that fare better on this album. Oddly, the vocals appear to spend more time in the in-tune zone than the out-of-tune yelping on the alternative takes. Not sure how this can be. Before reading any background on the album, I had deduced that the “studio” versions had been done in one-take, hence the warts and all approach. The “Live” versions were sung by a more confident Oldham, given the chance to rehearse the songs. Turns out to be somewhat back to front.
So yet another album from Will Oldham that delivers diamonds and dogshit at the same time. I can’t think of anyone else who does this (with alarming regularity), or perhaps it’s just me? I’m gracious to the folks at Temporary Residence for re-issuing it as I didn’t even know it existed. Recommended for completion of a lengthy collection, but ultimately, not that essential.