Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Bonnie "Prince" Billy / "Lie Down in the Light"

Take a deep breath. I'm trying to capture my thoughts.


Berthold Auerbach wrote that "music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." In the case of the music of Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy), the music sifts through the dust to find gemstones. It's ironic that though Will Oldham's music lends itself to exorbitant critical laudation, the music itself is so grounded in the simple pleasures and pains of human existence and life. His ability to write songs and compositions that so effortlessly yet effectively touch the listener's very soul is beyond remarkable, it's nearly inconceivable. After all, at its core country music seeks to explore and report the wonders of everyday life. However, in its transition toward more and more mainsteam pop which took off with Garth Brooks and continues in the form of Keith Urban and Taylor Swift (among countless others), that tenderness has faded. Leave it to the man who composed the pitch-black classic "I See a Darkness" almost a full decade ago to release an album to resurrect that humanity with an insight and purity unseen in any country albums since the new millennium commenced.

"Lie Down in the Light" is quite simply a masterpiece. I've written before of the high esteem I hold Will Oldham in, but even with the burden of astronomical expectations and a catalogue of such depth and breadth, he still has the ability to captivate and surprise me. The opening number, "Easy Does It", offers up the kind of down-home Appalachian country that made "Viva Last Blues" (recorded under Oldham's Palace Music moniker) a warm and inviting classic. Oldham captures the simple essence of the track in its lyrics as "good earthly music," complete with guitar, banjo, violin, and tambourine. "You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)" offers another uptempo song, and again the results are magnificent. However, the album reaches new heights with the Ashley Webber duet "So Everyone". The song is reminiscent of the duets of country music's golden era of the 1960's and 70's. One could almost imagine the song peformed by George Jones and Tammy Wynette, or Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. However, the song is hardly the only standout on "Lie Down in the Light." "(Keep Eye On) Other's Gain" makes great use of harmony and builds steadily to a crescendo before fading out quickly to a lull. "You Want that Picture" is another inspired duet with Webber, whose voice is not only incredible, but suits Oldham's so perfectly it brings out the best in him. "Where's the Puzzle?" is more of a rock song than anything else on the album, while still remaining firmly in the country roots of the album's body. "I'm disappearing into the wind," sings Oldham as the guitars seem caught in the breeze with him, darting in and out of conscious throughout the song. In an album replete with captivating moments, it is exhilarating enough to stand above them all. In an album which provides the light at the end of the "I See a Darkness" tunnel listeners crawled through intimately so long ago, it provides the beacon.

"Everything there ever was or will be is all there is," sing Webber and Oldham in consummate unison in "You Want that Picture." On "Lie Down in the Light," everything I could have hoped there could possibly be exists. "I See a Darkness" was and remains a 10.0 album in my mind. If only because happiness fails to grab the heart the same way as melancholy does this album score any lower.

Rating: 9.5


royalewithcheese_ said...

The only folk/country I've listened to is Bon Iver and I really enjoyed that.

Would you say this is something to pick up because I've just started listening to the genre?

Erik said...

I really liked Bon Iver as well. If I were going to start with Bonnie "Prince" Billy, but I wasn't really into country yet, I would start with "I See a Darkness" instead. "Lie Down in the Light" has a much more country sound than his other albums, so you might not like it as much immediately.