Artist: Bonnie 'Blue' Billy
Title: Little Boy Blue
Format: 7" Single
Label: Western Vinyl
Catalogue Number: West 009
Year of Release: 2000
A1 Little Boy Blue I
A2 Blue Boy
B1 Little Boy Blue II
Even by Will Oldham's standards the year 2000 was pretty busy. In between the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy albums I See A Darkness and Ease Down The Road come five compilation appearances, the double album Guarapero: Lost Blues 2, a duet with Johnny Cash, the EPs Ode Music, More Revery and Get On Jolly (the latter being particularly good), playing on albums with the bands The Anomoanon and Havanarama, and this quietly brilliant 7" single featuring three thematically linked cover versions (a full discography is available on the excellent Royal Stable site).
A1 is a cover of a George Jones B-side from 1960, the A-side of which Out of Control, may tell you something about George - a Country & Western singer very much in the Hank Williams mould (see Wikipedia for more) but without the dying-young part. Musically it features gently picked acoustic guitar and a relatively high-pitched Will singing in a very fitting nursery-rhyme style. There are embellishments with backing vocals from brother Paul, and some vocals and electric guitar picking from Matt Sweeney, with whom Will went to to record and tour the excellent Superwolf album.
open up your heart, let me come in
I have no hair on my chinny chin chin
you know I love you and I won't hurt you
I'm not the big bad wolf just little boy blue
Given the childish nature of the song and higher-register-then-normal vocals (excepting the occasional yelp and yodel on previous releases) you can almost believe Will does have no hair on his chinny chin chin. But then you get pictures like this one, to dispel you of the notion.
A2 is also a Country & Western cover, this time of a tune made famous by Jim Reeves, here attributed to B. Bryant, who a little research proves to be the wonderfully christened Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant, working with his wife Felice. They are perhaps best known for Bye Bye Love as covered by The Everly Brothers. This simple tune opens with some haunting slide guitar, more strumming from the acoustic, and an odd backing chorus that's almost doo-wop. Instead of the heartbreak of unrequited love, its the heartbreak of lost love that concerns us here:
I'm known as blue boy
You've found a new boy
I find it unusual that a minute or twos research into a subject can find you information such as where a person's bodily remains are buried, on a website I've never come across before called Waymarking.
The final track is the real star of the 7", this one a cover of a tune made famous by Bobby 'Blue' Bland, although written by Joseph Scott and Lacharles Harper. The lyrics have been altered here to substitute Bonny for Bobby though.
A drum machine and picked-guitar chord progression open things, and combine with the bass and lyrics to create an air of menace and threat, which builds through the subject matter of the opening verse:
when I thought I was so high above you
you were so good to me
even though you knew I didn't love you
you were still good to me
and when it used to make me happy to see you cry
you were so good to me
and that's no lie
So now, not surprisingly perhaps, this girl has left Bonny, and:
if I had a million dollars
I'd give you every every dime
just to hear you call me bonny
one more time
And there a wonderful breakdown where all other instruments drop out, leaving the drum machine and Will Oldham's voice spelling out B-O-N-N-Y, which gets picked up by the backing singer as all instruments come back in for the build to the finish (which I imagine if Bobby Bland were doing it, would involve a lot of shouting & mopping of brows). A great cover.