The fourth Bonnie 'Prince' Billy record in six years finds Will Oldham relaxing into a beautiful groove; similar to 2001's Ease Down the Road, Master and Everyone is quite melodic compared to his Palace or self-titled releases, with less of the dire apocalyptic imagery and more reflections from his literate, anti-romantic backwoodsman. Like most of Oldham's recordings, this one rewards close attention, which reveals recording ambience ranging from creaking wood to a soft patting on the floor (a foot keeping time), and, of course, Oldham's half-resigned, half-plaintive croon. Little gets in the way of these songs. Circular lines from an acoustic guitar demarcate the choruses, a cello adds a bit of emotional warmth to one song, and a few others have the wheezing keys of what sounds like a pump organ. Fortunately, the songs stand up to the examination. "The Way" ("Love me the way I love you") is very nearly sweet, stranded between desperation and hope. Elsewhere Oldham is a true fatalist, resigning himself to the inevitable power of love to ruin his life and using the creepiest of old-timey metaphors to get his point across. On the title song, he explains the situation ("You tell me there are other fish in the sea, and another gathers roses for me/On this we will agree"), then uses the chorus to illustrate his worst fear: "I'm now free, master and everyone/Servant of all and servant to none." "Wolf Among Wolves" is especially eerie, with the merest whisper of feedbacked guitar and a wordless vocal punctuating the puzzled lyrics, "Why can't I be loved as what I am?/A wolf among wolves, and not as a man among men." One of the few guests on Master and Everyone is Marty Slayton, who contributes duet vocals to a pair of songs, a surprisingly close crossover to the folk crowd sparked by the success of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Mostly, though, Oldham concentrates on crafting unremittingly introspective and confessional material in a spare, old-timey format. As sometimes happens on the recordings of his kindred spirit Cat Power, however, such unstinting uniformity can be a curse as well as a blessing.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush