Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Lie Down in the Light

By: Sarah Moore

Will Oldham‘s latest release under pseudonym Bonnie “Prince” Billy is yet another impressive album under the man’s belt. The folk musician puts out some sort of release, be it EP, LP or collaboration, at least once a year, but each work usually has an integrity of an album that took years to create. Such is the case with Lie Down in the Light (Drag City), Oldham’s blue album with a psychedelic comic of a shirtless man giving a headlock to a green, multi-colored winged humanoid on the cover. As usual, Oldham is joined by his two regular band members and an extended list of Nashville guest musicians lending their talents on such instruments as clarinet, pedal steel, shrooti box (band member Emmett Kelly) and “row of wrenches.” Rather than pretentious, though, Oldham’s interesting array of instruments disperses in a subtle mixture.

“Easy Does It” starts the disc off on a gentle note with Oldham’s borderline-fragile tenor and dissonant vocal harmonies. A country tone creeps in with elongated fiddle (Glen Duncan) and Old West saloon piano (Shahzad Ismaily). Oldham sends a message of “simpler is better” with lines like, “Now there is just one way / I stretch out my arms and cry to the just one day/ I welcome the moonlight above me and wander.”

Light is perhaps Oldham’s most country record of late. Duets with Ashley Webber bring a male/female interplay on such tracks as “So Everyone” and “You Want that Picture.” Webber’s deep alto offers a complement to Oldham’s tones rather than contrasting. Her delicate voice brings in a Stevie Nicks-with-a-twang quality. Oldham’s compositions are consistently well-written and arranged, as intensities build and wane, dynamics and rhythms shift, and just the right instruments play at just the right moments.

Disc highlight “Keep an Eye on Other’s Gain” offers unexpected vocal harmonies amidst Kelly’s ambient and otherworldly layers of recorder. Think of a group of fourth graders playing the recorder at different moments, offering contrasting notes, yet all of the dissonance comes together to make sense. The song speaks as an adage from one’s parents in order to stay ahead, and the song brightens as the dictums are spouted. “And keep your loved ones near” the song repeats, echoing the family-centered theme that resounds throughout several songs.

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