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Bonnie "Prince" Billy: The Letting Go

Bonnie "Prince" Billy
The Letting Go
Drag City

Will Oldham, the peripatetic alt-country oddball who records variously as Palace Music, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, and Will Oldham, has for the last few years worked at convincing listeners that he's not such an oddball. For 2004's Greatest Palace Music he convened a group of A-list Nashville session players to rerecord tunes from his extensive catalog that were originally given the lo-fi indie treatment. The intriguing result suggested that, unlike many of his fans, Oldham doesn't view the distinction between underground and mainstream country as a matter of artistic integrity, but as one of differing vocabularies: Sometimes a creaky acoustic guitar gets your message across; other times an expertly played lap steel does the job.

Recorded in Reykjavík with a band including Oldham's brother Paul and Dirty Three drummer Jim White, The Letting Go is one of Oldham's weird records, full of hushed minor-key dirges decorated with discordant string arrangements and ghost-folk back-up vocals by Dawn McCarthy of Faun Fables. It's uneasy listening, but the style suits Oldham's spooky, fretful writing, which offers images of "the dead flying through the sky" and souls "impaled on balsa spears." An exception is "Lay and Love," a gorgeous ballad in which Oldham rhapsodizes over a lady who fights evil with all she does. It's one you can almost hear being sung by a Nashville hat act.

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