Release Date: Mar 17, 2009
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Is there now such a thing as Neo-Classic ’70s Country-Rock?Beware may be the best country-rock album David Allan Coe never got around to making himself. Will Oldham’s stage persona, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, stepped up the ranks of his backing musicians on recent albums, abandoning his team of rough, occasionally error-prone indie rockers for tight ensembles who can replicate a 1970s outlaw-country band without dropping a false note. While no country rocker would likely ruminate in the elliptical, often illusory prose Oldham favors, they’d surely embrace the sweet ballroom-dance harmonies of “I Don’t Belong to Anyone,” the gallant clomp of “You Don’t Love Me” and “I Am Goodbye,” and the sweet, forlorn plod of “You Are Lost.
At first glance, there seems to be something distinctly unsettling about this record. There is the album cover, pitch black excepting a profile drawn in white, cast in stark relief and reduced in caricature to the skull of a Cro-Magnon man: a large-brained but primitive individual with hair that rises like wisps of steam from the top of his pate. There is the catalogue number it bears: 666.
In the last decade, Will Oldham has kept busy releasing discs under the monikers Bonnie Prince Billy, Palace, Palace Songs, Palace Brothers and his own name. For the most part, everything is a must-listen, and his latest is no exception. Unlike his most popular record, the sparse I See A Darkness, Beware is a rollicking Southern-?tinged full-?band effort.
Singer-songwriter Will Oldham (a.k.a. the ”Prince”) finds Southern comfort on his 15th release — Beware is studded with warm country rambles and folky, fiddle-tinged laments. His songs float along like dust in the afternoon sun, less driven to move forward than just to be. B+ Download This: Listen to the song ”You Are Lost” on amazon.com See all current music reviews from EW .
In his review of last year's exceptional Lie Down in the Light, Stephen Deusner noted just how consistent Will Oldham's output had become, bemoaning somewhat Oldham's inability to truly excite. But there's a yin to that yang, that being Oldham has amassed such an army of friends and co-conspirators that he can create an album of Lie Down's quality without excessive pressure or to-do. For the second year in a row, Oldham drops a fully-formed, gorgeously wrapped disc with little buildup, though Beware will receive a promotional bump (a small tour and, in some markets, local-cable commercials) that Oldham begged off of Lie Down.
The cover of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's eighth studio album bears a striking resemblance to the cover of Neil Young's Tonight's the Night. It's so uncanny that it can't be a coincidence, and yet the only common ground Tonight's the Night shares with Beware is that it was Young's eighth LP as well. Musically the albums couldn't be more different. Tonight's the Night sees a world-weary Young straining to sing against a flawed, loose musical arrangement, contrasting sharply with the polished sound of Harvest.
One thing is clear as I listen to this record: Will Oldham is messing with us.From the beginning, it's clear that something different is happening here under the folky guise of a modern Willie Nelson record. Oldham seemingly postures a smile while struggling for appreciation throughout the disc. On the first track, Beware Your Only Friend, he belts "I want to be your only friend (Is that scary?)" Maybe.
It's only an artist supremely confident in his art who can begin an album with the string-band hoedown that is "Beware Your Only Friend" (complete with rustic handclaps and a mixed vocal chorus). But Bonnie "Prince" Billy is certainly an artist comfortable in any surrounding, from the Baroque isolationism of The Letting Go and the laid-back charm of Lie Down in the Light to the smooth countrypolitanism of Sings Greatest Palace Music. Musically, Beware has a bit of everything; although nothing is as spare and haunted as The Letting Go, Billy moves from modern string band to smooth strings-and-slide to ragged alt country without batting an eyelash -- and that's just the first three songs.
In recent years, Will Oldham's albums of mesmerising alt.country have been arriving thicker, faster and fuller, with Beware, his 12th release as Bonnie "Prince" Billy, being his grandest yet. Here are beaming violins, amplified guitars and a voice coated in reverb, all suggesting a man keen to romp in the daisies. His lyrics however, as twisted as ever, reveal otherwise.
Remember the scene in The Blues Brothers when Elwood’s decided it’s a good idea to impersonate The Good Ol’ Boys. . .
The cover of Beware, which clearly takes after the cover for Neil Young’s 1975 album Tonight’s the Night, might perfectly sum up Will Oldham’s time recording under the Bonnie “Prince” Billy moniker. Oldham’s new collection takes on a loose-country feel that has more than a passing resemblance to Young’s album. It might lack the rock songs Young peppered Tonight’s the Night with, but Beware contains an unmoored, searching feeling.
Beware is a “big” Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy record, or at least that’s how it was described by Will Oldham in a lengthy New Yorker profile in January. The article itself, however welcome, seemed to come about a decade late; Oldham accrued a canon of work worthy of the liberal rag’s ink long ago. But in the days since Kelefa Sanneh’s story hit the web, it’s become clear that the profile was actually a few months early.
Usually, a promo CD arrives here as the full album, with promo cover and a press release. Beware seems to represent a new phenomenon though. Each of the thirteen tracks contains not one but two spoken interjections, reminding your humble reviewer that ‘this is a promotional copy of Beware. These soundbites cut across the music on the album just whenever it starts to get interesting.