Drag City 2009. DC422
This is a single of covers of occasional Oldham collaborator Susanna Wallumrod’s songs, and while it feels like something of an afterthought, these are captivating songs, delivered as usual with Oldham’s intensity.
The A side is rather sombre, but is a beautifully sung and recorded piece which you’ll love if you’re into BPB. The B side is live and sounds distinctly rough, but if anything the song works better than the A side and is worth the effort with the murky sound.
Temporary Residence 2009. TRR151
This is the first in a series of 4 split singles put out by noisenicks Young Widows, most with interesting bands on the B side. You won’t be surprised to know that I bought this for the B side, and that I don’t have any of the other singles in the series.
The A side is a pleasant enough noisy guitar fest, but I can’t see me buying any more by the band. The B side is the sort of experimental material Will Oldham sometimes wheels out for these obscure 7″ releases and which are more typical of his very early output. The lyrics are impenetrable and his voice is multitracked, which is an odd contrast to the sparse acoustic backing. There are bits of spoken word and some strange falsetto too. Somehow is all comes together into a satisfying whole for reasons I can’t figure out. I guess he knows what he’s doing..
LJW 2010. LJW01
Today is a good day. I managed to score a copy of Bonnie Prince Billy’s new album, which he self-released in secret, and just dropped off at sundry US record shops for them to sell. Getting a copy involved phoning lots of US shops until I found one who was willing to post a copy to me. Not an easy purchase, but by his standards not too bad; earlier this year he made an EP which was only available from a microbrewery somewhere I’d never heard of. I guess he finds the idea of saps like me chasing around to get his releases amusing. In a way I kind of like the way he does things, but it’s also annoying. Fortunately the album is his best for ages, so it was worth the effort. I might post it at some point, but there are rumours of a proper release, so I’ll wait till things are more certain.
In the meantime, here’s one of the many BPB 7″ singles I have, this being a split release with The Black Swans covering Larry Jon Wilson songs. LJW was, apparently a country singer from the 1970s, but I’ve never heard of him. However, on the strength of this he could write a decent song, and with BPB as one of my favourite interpreters of this sort of material, it’s worth a listen.
Not on label. MARK17
This is a very rare BPB single, available only at gigs during 2007.
The A side is a curious thing – the writing credits are shared between EC Ball and John Martyn, contributing part one and part two respectively. Hopefully you already know who John Martyn was (if you don’t, check him out), but EC Ball was a rather obscure American gospel/folk singer who died back in 1978. Both recorded songs called John The Baptist, Martyn on his 1970 album Stormbringer! and Ball in 1973 . The only thing the songs have in common is the titles, and BPB simply performs them back to back.
I prefer the B side, which is a impassioned but slightly unhinged live version of Strange Form Of Life which originally appeared on The Letting Go. The song is a favourite of mine, and this, I think, is the best version.
Monitor Records 2001. MAP001
This is a very rare (500 copies) tour only album, which is, as the title suggests a live version of the Get On Jolly EP, although it’s a lot longer than the studio version. It’s unlike anything else he recorded, being almost ambient in character in that it meanders along with no obvious sense of purpose until the last track, where things get a bit more conventional. Don’t let that description put you off though, this is a beautiful piece of work. The guitarist is Mick Turner, better known for his work with the Dirty Three and it’s the interplay between his inspired playing and Will Oldhams’s vocals which really make this album shine.
These two work together reasonably regularly, most recently a couple of months back on a rather fine vinyl only single, available here.
Durtro Janana 2006. Durtro Janana 1963
I’ve been listening to compilations a bit lately, mainly because I usually neglect them and forget the hidden gems they contain. This one is a bit of a beast; five full CDs and 75 artists, so it is a bit overwhelming but there’s so much interesting stuff it’s essential if you’re into the offbeat.
It was put together by David Tibet (of Current 93) who obviously has a hell of an address book as a benefit for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). While it lacks the stylistic coherence of most of the compilations I’ve posted here in the past, the quality is mostly very high, and some effort has been made to make to album flow. Realistically, you’ll never play the whole thing in one sitting, so the CDs are made to work pretty well as standalone albums.
It’s so vast and so varied I don’t really want to attempt a description – I’ll be typing all day. I bought it for the Bonnie Prince Billy track, but soon realised it’s full of stuff I like, or at least stuff I would like if I’d heard it. There are the avant garde names you’d expect, but also people representing his interest is the weirder end of folk, such as Bill Fay.
Really the best thing to do is look at the tracklisting below and to trust me that there’s very little filler.
Posting a charity album here might seem like a really bad idea, but it is sold out now. If you enjoy it, you could assuage any guilty feelings you might have by donating to Medecins Sans Frontieres here. They do really useful stuff providing medical help in places where it wouldn’t otherwise be available.
Virgin Ambient 1996. AMBT14
The second and final volume in the Macro Dub Infection series, again compiled by Kevin Martin.
For the general idea behind this compilation, have a look at Volume 1.
This is slightly less successful than volume 1, but still has enough great material to make it essential listening, that is, if you’re into this kind of thing. For me the most bizarre track is the last, which brings together “Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Ice (yet another Kevin Martin alias) to make an incredible futuristic dub version of a Will Oldham classic. Other stand-outs are the ever reliable Mouse on Mars, Rhys Chatham and, unsurpsingly, Martin’s own Techno Animal.
Domino 2001. WIGCD89X
This is a three track Peel session EP which came free with initial UK copies of Ease Down The Road. Irritatingly the session, broadcast in 1999 actually had five tracks; no idea why two are missing, but what is here is well worth a listen. All had previously been issued as studio recordings, although What’s Wrong With A Zoo was only on a rather obscure film soundtrack. He has a backing band here – presumably the guys he was touring with at the time.
This is BPB on good form – what more can I say? The accompanying album is also excellent, particularly the last track Rich Wife Full of Happiness which always gives me goosebumps.
Drag City 2003; DC232
This has no artist credit, although it’s listed on Discogs as Will Oldham. I’ve put it as Bonnie “Prince” Billy because his various monikers are just confusing, so I tend to stick to the most common.
This disc gathers together a couple of rarities. The first track, Happy Child is actually by Tweaker (from their album The Attraction To All Things Uncertain), but was written and sung by Will Oldham. As a result it’s quite different to his usual material – lots of loud effects laden guitars used to good effect. In some ways, the band drown out the vocals too much – the intense delivery is what I like about him, but overall this works well I think.
Forest Time originally appeared as a single sided 10″ single in 2002, a collaborative project with photographer Erik Wessels. As is so often the case with his vinyl only releases, it sounded as though it was pressed up in someone’s shed on recycled plastic bags, so it was nice to get a clean copy of the track on this CD. It’s more usual Will Oldham fayre; just him and an acoustic guitar, beautiful as always.
Since this stuff is credited to Will Oldham, the recommendation has to be the best album he recorded under that name; Joya.
Domino 1998. RUG81CD
Of all the artists I’ve discovered in the last 20 years it’s Bonnie “Prince” Billy who I’ve spent most time listening to, and come to that, spent most time trying to track down impossibly obscure releases.
Of the vast amount of BPB I have, I’ve probably listened to this 1998 UK only EP the most. The first two tracks (One With the Birds & The Southside of the World) are classic BPB – beautiful songs performed with characteristic intensity. Both were originally paired for a US 7″ single release. Then things get a bit odd; the remaining 5 tracks are described on the sleeve as “devotional songs” but are more accurately described as Hare Krishna songs. In fact they suit his style very well to the extent that they sound as though he wrote them, but something I think works particularly well is the short duration of 4 of them. Only one is more than a minute, which is quite disconcerting in a world where songs usually last 3 minutes, sometimes longer but rarely shorter. To do this they have to abandon the usual verse/chorus structure because there isn’t time for it. Instead, they say what they want to say and then stop, which is surprisingly refreshing. Stand-out is the title track Blue Lotus Feet which never fails to give me goosebumps.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s back catalogue is intimidating in terms of its vastness, but also the rarity of much of it. The various names he’s used doesn’t help although the he’s now settled on the BPB moniker – see also Will Oldham (his real name), Palace Brothers and Palace Music to name the main ones. However there’s plenty which is easy to find, and the obvious starting point is I See A Darkness, whose title track, covered by Johnny Cash, is often considered his best song. Other favourites of mine are Ease Down The Road, and Master and Everyone.