Artist: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
Title: Lie Down in the Light
Format: Single LP
Label: Drag City
Catalogue Number: DC367
Year of Release: 2008
A1 Easy Does It (3:53)
A2 You Remind Me Of Something (The Glory Goes) (3:56)
A3 So Everyone (4:01)
A4 For Every Field There's A Mole (3:19)
A5 (Keep Eye On) Other's Gain (4:35)
A6 You Want That Picture (3:50)
B1 Missing One (2:47)
B2 What's Missing Is (4:27)
B3 Where Is The Puzzle? (3:50)
B4 Lie Down In The Light (4:09)
B5 Willow Trees Bend (4:08)
B6 I'll Be Glad (2:43)
Twelve Songs, it says on the back of this album. You can't fault the accuracy of that, at least. But are they twelve good songs? Twelve bad songs? Where do these twelve songs sit in the Will Oldham canon?
One of them, strangely, isn't even by Will Oldham. Not that he's averse to a cover version, it's just that they are normally on collections all of their own. It's the final track, I'll Be Glad, and the original by Shannon Stephens is available for download at Asthmatic Kitty.
Generally speaking the songs sit quite well in the Will Oldham/Bonnie 'Prince Billy' oeuvre. When you're an artist known for regularly changing their musical palette it must get difficult to try new things, and whereas Superwolf and The Letting Go featured new collaborators, for the most part the musicians on Lie Down In The Light also worked on the Greatest Palace Music project. So while there is fiddle, pedal steel and banjo aplenty, this album avoids some of the intentional Nashville cheesiness of Greatest... the presence of a new female vocalist Ashley Webber; a great clarinet solo on track four; somewhere, apparently, a row of wrenches is played; elsewhere a shrooti box(?); all add depth. An ever-present yearning for the earlier, sparser sound of the original Palace releases pervades.
Bonnie albums are often stacked with the best tunes up-front, but here all the song-craft has been used up on the first side - production values, lyrical and musical inventiveness - all these qualities fizzle by the time you get to the B-side, with the title track in particular being a very slapdash affair. Never has there seemed such a clear line between A- and B-side material. On the A-side there is storytelling, humour, poetry, oral sex and threats. On the B-side there are vagaries and religion - the final track could even be a hymn, having its own choral finale. On the A-side driven-sounding guitars, on the B-side lacklustre strumming.
Easy Does It has its charming "just one way" shambolic sing-along; The Glory Goes has "Revelling in midnight clothes/among the wicked picking scabs"; So Everyone has the oral sex, along with a wish for the lady in question to "do it so everyone sees me"; For Every Field A Mole doesn't sound promising I admit, hokey maybe, but this track has the clarinet solo and ends with a "hand to hold your throat/to stifle that crying choke". Other's Gain is singled out as being produced by Paul Oldham (all others by Mark Nevers, see this Sound on Sound article) and sterling work he has done on it. You Want That Picture features Ashley's largest vocal contribution, a duet about a broken love, centred on a chorus that "everything that ever was/or will be/is all there is" and each singer's observation that one day they would die, which "meant everything would be all right". Highpoint of the album for me, and things go swiftly downhill from there.
So, Twelve Songs - 3 great songs, 3 good songs, 6 fair-to-middling songs.
Only two months since its release though, it might turn out to be more of a grower.
Naturalismo has two tracks to download here.
Pitchfork Review, which says I See A Darkness is the evil twin of this record, albeit an evil twin born nine years earlier, so more of an evil sibling.
The Dusted Review is harsh, but fair.