Will Oldham

Black/Rich Music

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Throughout his career, Will Oldham has returned to the setting of Black/Rich Music. Beginning with his 1994 Palace Brothers album Days in the Wake, some of Oldham's best songs have been recorded solo. Not a great guitar player, Oldham relies on a basic, strummed accompaniment for the acoustic material on Black/Rich Music, and songs seem to have been written and recorded with little editing or refinement. Still, the simply hewn melodies and one-take feel of the performances are all part of what is endearing about Oldham's approach.

The EP is a miniature song cycle commissioned by Estep Nagy for the film The Broken Giant. It consists of four songs (two originals and two covers) linked together by their melodic "themes." Played on guitar and organ, the latter are brief and primitively constructed, so the heart of Black/Rich Music rests in the four songs they revolve around. One "cover" is a lengthy excerpt from D.H. Lawrence's poem The Risen Lord. Attempts to put such weighty material to music are typically unsuccessful and often awkward at best. In this case, it's a rambling narrative set to an unadorned backing of acoustic guitar. For better or worse, the performance is effective, because Oldham's own songs can seem similarly cumbersome. "Black/Rich Tune" passes by, failing to offer much that's musically memorable. The two covers come too close to Oldham on autopilot; thankfully, the best songs here are the two originals. He seems most engaged on "Do What You Will Do," and "Allowance" features the collection's best melody. Stripped of his peculiar vocal inflections in this intimate setting, it's a reminder of why Oldham should continue to record in this manner.

Black/Rich Music definitely has a place in the Oldham fan's collection. For others, he has recorded better material in this vein and the EP should be passed over for his next full-length release.

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