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Bonnie Prince Billy (Will Oldham)

THE LETTING GO • Bonnie Prince Billy

A raw, softly savage beauty bursts forth. Like a naked romantic prophet, Bonnie Prince Billy soars over the land unfettered. On the included lyric sheet, even his magnanimously smiling countenance of gratitude to his cohorts and fans is electric, larger than life, and not exactly of this world.

Also known as Will Oldham, this artist is like love unchained. I first witnessed his artistic power when he memorably portrayed the young preacher and miner in the John Sayles classic 1987 film Matewan. If you want to get a look at how brilliant he is on the silver screen, just check out the trailer for his latest work in the film by Kelly Reichardt, Old Joy, here. (Interestingly enough, the executive producer is the much celebrated Todd Haynes, brother of Sophe Lux' Gwynneth Haynes, interviewed in this issue.)

Still years from 40, Oldham has been in a slew of bands and collaborations, and near a dozen films, some in post production at this writing. His latest recording, The Letting Go, is a very brave and passionate opus, and lyrically rich and enigmatic. In one of the climaxes of the work, a symphonic cacophony of strings and an enharmonic dirgelike chorus envelop and propel these repeating lines:

Birdies say
I got no children
Birdies never know
In my hidden life
I've made a seedling grow

One of the principal otherworldly elements in the musical arrangements are the vocal contributions of Dawn McCarthy. Her approach to harmony singing is as original as the lyrical approach of the artist, so we'll include a couple of examples, to escort you into the sonic neighborhood.

For instance, I was listening to The Letting Go in my iTunes, you know? When it was finished playing the bonus track "Untitled," which is like a folk version of Brian Eno's Music For Airports or Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, it was an absolutely shocking experience when it segued into "Green Onions" by Booker T and the MG's.

I've heard his work loosely categorized as alternative country, but it's about as close to Johnny Cash as Bartok is, though some people would say that that's not so very far, either. It's all relative.

We think The Letting Go is a landmark effort, a work of awesome beauty. Long live the Prince. • Frank Goodman

prince with cat listen to a clips
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BPB page at drag city
the CD's title references:
#341 by Emily Dickinson
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