Release Date: Sep 23, 2014
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
In California, quail and dumplings isn’t a thing. When Will Oldham, recording here as Bonnie “Prince” Billy on his 11th full-length using the moniker, sings quite convincingly about this meal as the ideal, the hope, it doesn’t really matter if the listener has no connection to it. And isn’t that an indicator of some sort of greatness? When a songwriter can take an audience into a completely foreign world and make them, to some extent, empathize with the sentiment and feel the desired emotion as if they grew up entrenched in the same reality of the songwriter? This is not a new trick for Oldham, but it is very much the backbone of Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues.
There’s no second guessing Kentucky singer-songwriter royalty Will Oldham. The latest addition to a sprawling and pleasantly bewildering discography is effectively a covers album of his last widely available solo full-length, 2011’s Wolfroy Goes To Town, along with contemporary B-sides. While Wolfroy offered an introspective, stripped-back look at Oldham’s craft, here he fleshes out and repurposes that material in much the same way as Sings Greatest Palace Music reimagined some of his earliest work with Nashville panache.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy has always seemed to hail from a parallel reality. The pseudofictional persona crafted by Will Oldham has the aesthetic of crossing over from a smoky and nebulous realm, where the chronology of musical history progresses in spirals rather than linearly. The troubadour’s latest release, Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues, finds his character at odds with that reality and with the very nature of existence.
At this point, Will Oldham, aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, is practically expected to release an album each year, but it’s almost always a surprise when the record does come out. Amazingly prolific, Oldham manages to stay in comfortable obscurity after each album cycle, rarely giving his releases a big promotional push. Instead, he relies on his small but fervent fanbase to carry him through each release, allowing him to experiment and take sizable risks that most songwriters aren’t afforded or even capable of pulling off.
Will Oldham's path has never been straight and narrow. Over his lengthy, prolific run, the warbly-voiced troubadour has peppered his heartbreakingly beautiful songwriting with moments of absurdity, humor, and deeply unexpected or confounding moves that could spell commercial suicide for a lesser artist. Early on he changed the name of his project almost record to record, offering albums as Palace, Palace Brothers, and under his given name before settling with the Bonnie "Prince" Billy moniker.
Will Oldham releases come and go quickly and with little fanfare, so it’s easy to forget just how much music he has released in the last 20-plus years, whether under his given name, variations of Palace, or Bonnie “Prince” Billy. There’s a Spoon-like consistency to his output, even on self-released experiments and one-off collaborations, like the 7-inch he released with Glasgow’s Trembling Bells earlier this year. Some releases work better than others, but the low points are typically few and far between.