Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Album Review: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – I See A Darkness

This was Will Oldham’s first album recorded under the name of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy in 1999.  It kicks off with the singalong A Minor Place which features weedy organ in the background.  Better is follow up track Nomadic Revery (All Around), with gloriously undisciplined vocals where Oldham sounds like a 90 year old man.  The playing across these and other tracks is subtle and spare, nothing is too overdone.
The title track is the centerpiece, it’s a kind of a quiet, brooding, creeping song (covered a year later by Johnny Cash), and probably the most ‘backwoodsy’, quintessentially Oldham song.  Much of the material is quite dark, as evidenced by the titles – Another Day Full of Dread, Death to Everyone, Today I Was An Evil One, and the Appalachian folk-style Black – yet most have the melodies are highly memorable.
It’s not all downbeat, Madeleine-Mary rollicks along with a loping beat and the aforementioned Today I Was An Evil One is relatively sprightly.  This album is the one by which all Oldham’s future works have been judged, and as such, is a little overrated.  He was, however, doing that ‘log cabin’ thing years before Bon Iver brought it to the masses, and this album is a good example of this.