It's only an artist supremely confident in his art who can begin an album with the string-band hoedown that is "Beware Your Only Friend" (complete with rustic handclaps and a mixed vocal chorus). But Bonnie "Prince" Billy is certainly an artist comfortable in any surrounding, from the Baroque isolationism of The Letting Go and the laid-back charm of Lie Down in the Light to the smooth countrypolitanism of Sings Greatest Palace Music. Musically, Beware has a bit of everything; although nothing is as spare and haunted as The Letting Go, Billy moves from modern string band to smooth strings-and-slide to ragged alt country without batting an eyelash -- and that's just the first three songs. Oldham also has no fear in his lyricism, which intersperses clear, direct thoughts about relationships with metaphors or language that cloud the issues just as the sun was beginning to shine (that's just his neo-primitivist take on "the old, weird America"). Simply contrast his divulging lyrics on "You Don't Love Me" ("You say you like my eyes only, or just the way I giggle/Sometimes you like the smell of me or how my stomach jiggles") to the fatalist cipher that appears in "Death Final": "In a pit of bodies, I am loved by all/ By hamhock and by handkerchief, by damsel and by dall." Befitting the title, there are many cautionary notes to be found, such as the opener "Your Only Friend" ("I want to be your only friend/Beware of me") and "You Are Lost" ("Well you are bound to be put down at any cost, and if you listen to me you are lost"). The band, anchored by guitarist Emmett Kelly, bassist Joshua Abrams, percussionist Michael Zerang, and violinist Jennifer Hutt, provide close accompaniment, sometimes hesitating after a verse to pick up on Oldham's next declamatory phrase. A few arrangements may turn even the staunchest alt country stomachs, with a loose-limbed gawkiness that any musician under the age of 50 would have trouble pulling off; Oldham does indeed pull it off, but that won't make it any easier for some listeners. Oldham's brand of folk music is certainly old enough and weird enough, but there are noticeably fewer moments of beauty and fewer lyrical revelations than on his best material.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush