It can be a daunting task trying to compile a definitive discography of Will Oldham, the Kentucky born Americana polymorph who records as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Palace Brothers, Palace and several other monikers. He’s an inveterate collaborator and has a host of singles and EPs to wade through along with his now lengthy album back catalogue. As far as we can ascertain he has only recorded under his own name on 1997’s Joya so this new release, reworkings of old songs, might be seen as a recap of his quarter century of recording were it not so brief. The true recap is actually in the form of a book of the same name which gathers the lyrics of over 200 songs together with comments from Oldham on their origins and meanings. However, this aural peek into his past is a delightful collection.
Stripped back to just Oldham and his guitar the album is an austere listen with his voice ringing out throughout proving that he has grown into a supremely tender and emotive singer. Choosing just ten songs from his past he sounds at times as he did on the early Palace Brothers albums without the faux patina which offered those albums an air of mystery. This is much more bedsit folk orientated as if early Leonard Cohen were the benchmark (with the title perhaps a nod to Cohen’s album, Songs of Love and Hate). With a fine balance between his better known songs such as I See A Darkness (famously recorded by Johnny Cash) and New Partner along with deeper cuts Oldham is tender, dark and erotic in turn (listen to Big Friday for example).
He veers from his task of revisiting his songs on two occasions. There’s an acappela rendition of Richard and Linda Thompson’s Strange Affair with an extra verse (presumably by Oldham) added. Oldham inhabits the remorse and melancholia of the song excellently sounding as if he were being recorded in the field in some god forsaken past time. The album closes with what purports to be an unreleased 1997 recording, Party With Marty (Abstract Blues) with Oldham definitely sounding younger as he strums his way through a lo-fi haze which sounds as if Jeffrey Lewis was singing a blissed out surfer’s sex fantasy. It’s an odd conclusion to the album but then again it’s Will Oldham isn’t it.
See the book, Songs of Love and Horror, Collected Lyrics of Will Oldham here.