With little warning, Drag City released Will Oldham's latest full-length, Lie Down in the Light, with Oldham using his Bonnie "Prince" Billy moniker. So little warning, in fact, that the review copy didn't hit my mailbox until the album was already selling. Perhaps they hoped to avoid illegal leaks or advance reviews. I can understand concerns about the reviews, as the album is perhaps the cheeriest, most upbeat and straightforward recording Oldham has ever made, recalling a front porch jamboree among family and close friends that just happen to be stellar musicians. To listeners who cherish the dark, moodier, and more experimental recordings like I See a Darkness, Superwolf, and The Letting Go, these twelve tracks might be a little off-putting.
But take the triumphant sing-a-long melodies and gentle lullabies for what they are: a comforting, uplifting, and all-round enjoyable experience. These tunes aren't meant to alter your mind, just put it at peace for a while.
Produced by Nashville producer Mark Nevers, also a member of Lambchop, the tracks fit easily into the contemporary folk-country genre. Pedal steel flows freely and the fiddle parts recall Appalachian folk songs. Not that Light is devoid of experimentation. Listen closely for Shahzad Ismaily's row of wrenches, for example.
Ashley Weber's harmonies are often simply the same notes as Oldham, just set at a higher octave, as in moments of "So Everyone," which begins only with fuzzy guitar-strumming and a vocal interchange between Weber and Oldham. The chorus is rounded out with horns and a choir of voices. The song builds and swells through upward key changes to almost giddy effect.
Those overwhelming exultant moments are balanced out by sparser, slower, and darker tracks like "Willow Trees Bend." Here Oldham's off-kilter vocals command the center alongside baroque guitar turns and shrooti box (harmonium).
Lie Down in the Light is not a milestone, rather a subtle and sweet and satisfying soundtrack that's perfectly suited for a summer afternoon on the front porch sipping lemonade with your closest family and friends.