Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Sings Greatest Palace Music

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As Will Oldham's public identity has evolved from one of the mythic Palace Brothers to self-styled backwoods philosopher Bonnie "Prince" Billy, his musical approach has subtly evolved, with the shambolic and bare-wired attack of There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You giving way to the more subtle and artful ambience of Ease Down the Road and Master and Everyone. But Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music represents a stylistic shift no one was likely to have expected -- for this album, Oldham and several pals settled in at an upscale Nashville recording studio with a handful of first-call Music City session musicians (including the legendary Hargus "Pig" Robbins, Stuart Duncan, and Eddie Bayers) to re-record 15 tunes from the Palace songbook. The results vary wildly from track to track -- some cuts sound like polished but uncompromised re-imaginings of the Palace catalog (most notably "New Partner" and "Riding"), a few seem feel like perverse and sugary parodies of both Nash Vegas production and Oldham's myriad obsessions ("I Am a Cinematographer" and "I Send My Love to You"), and most appear to exist in some strange middle ground between these two poles. Oldham is in what's become typical voice for him -- he's no longer straining to sound like a Appalachian hermit, and if he doesn't have a whole lot of range, at least he's learned to skirt around the notes he can't hit. And regardless what you might think of the musicians, you can't deny they're playing what got them the gig, and they do so with a very professional élan (and Stuart Duncan's fiddle work is often quite beautiful). But as Will Oldham and his multitude of alter egos become increasingly cryptic in approaches and intent, Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music seems like yet another aural ink-blot test from a guy who has apparently devoted his recent career to confounding his audience for reasons that are hard to fathom. This album is too deeply felt too often to truly be a prank, and it's too willfully odd and disingenuous to be a sincere attempt at a straight country & western session, but Bonnie "Prince" Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music doesn't offer nearly enough clues as to what else it might be, and an unfortunate amount of this album simply doesn't merit the analysis that Oldham seemingly demands of listeners.

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