Release Date: Oct 4, 2011
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
The cover is a cartoon and New Tibet opens with the typically provocative line "As boys we fuck each other," but Will Oldham aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy's 21st solo album isn't another example of the wayward muse that has led the alt-country kingpin into soft-rock and standup. If anything, it's a return to the desolate beauty of 1999's landmark album I See a Darkness. With Oldham's melancholy vocal occasionally cast against the sweetly anguished Angel Olsen, the songs ponder God and humanity with religiously quiet intensity.
“As boys we fucked each other/As men we lie and smile”, Will Oldham, aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy strikingly sings these words at the beginning of ‘New Tibet’. Any track which opens with a reference to gay sex is alright by me, and whilst Oldham’s twenty-first studio album Wolfroy Goes To Town is generally an album of good old despair and nihilism, a declaration of boyhood gay fucking is a middle finger stuck up at the forces of conservatism in my mind. This fuck-you is extended later in the track, albeit quite despairingly, with the words, “We are not what we should be/We just do what we do...If we had power/We would not fight for you/We would crush you”.
There’s something about this album that feels like [b]Will Oldham[/b] revisiting the desolate, dream-like hinterlands of his late ’90s [b]‘Palace’[/b] period. But instead of the shaky-voiced child-man caught between the lonely drip, drip, drip of the whisky bottle and the lone beat of his broken heart, he’s returned fully formed and phoenix-like. Aided by vocalist [b]Angel Olsen[/b], who provides an excellent, [b]Linda Ronstadt[/b]-ish counterpoint to his increasingly gruff-sounding vocal, this is perhaps his strongest and most consistent collection for years.
Those who like their Will Oldham albums straight-up, sparse and intimate will find Wolfroy – the Kentucky singer-songwriter's 16th-odd album – right up their street. The opening moments of "Cows" are as atmospheric as a lone bell and bassline can be; by contrast, the song ends with antique folk harmonising. The prolific Oldham and regular guitarist Emmett Kelly are joined here by Chicagoan Angel Olsen, whose warble haunts Oldham's understated lines.
Perhaps the most conventional story Will Oldham has to tell is his own. As a teenager in the late 1980s, he moved from his hometown of Louisville to Hollywood, where he struggled as an actor before eventually landing a small role in John Sayles' Matewan and a larger role in a TV movie about Jessica McClure. Oldham soon defected to music, writing songs first under the Palace set of monikers and later as Bonnie "Prince" Billy.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy fans looking for a return to the surprisingly ornate, Grateful Dead-inspired country-folk of 2009’s Beware may come away a tad disappointed in the ultra-sparse yet warm and winning Wolfroy Goes to Town. The ten songs, nearly all of which arrive via guitar, bass, and Oldham's weathered croon, feel lived in and coveted. It’s typical Oldham fare, with highlights coming from opener “No Match,” which builds to a powerful, harmonious climax, and the nearly seven-minute “Black Captain,” an epic yarn of nobility and heartache that sounds like it’s been around for a century or two.
With Wolfroy Goes to Town, Bonnie “Prince” Billy has scaled back from his last few full length releases. Lie Down in the Light, from 2008, reached ecstatic heights. Will Oldham’s voice peak in strength and the songs had an exuberance that could convert any remaining doubters (were there any?) to ecstatic recognition. Last year’s Wonder Show of the World, a collaboration with the Cairo Gang—basically the guitarist, Emmet Kelly, who also contributed to Lie Down and who adds his nuanced playing to the new album—continued in the same bright, sunny vein, though perhaps not mounting to the same glorious horizon.
Will Oldham's long-running persona, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, may be best know for near-classic albums like 1999's I See A Darkness or 2003's Master and Everyone. But the Billy that gives us Wolfroy Goes to Town is a far cry from the guy that delivered those contained, clearly structured tunes. Working with a spare band here -- including the Cairo Gang's Emmett Kelly -- Billy gives us a threadbare but wandering album, one that both stretches out and stretches itself thin, revealing both the fatigue of age and discovery of youth.
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A sober and smart record – his finest since 1999's I See a Darkness. Laura Barton 2011 This is, quite spectacularly, Will Oldham's 21st solo album — his 12th under the guise of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy. That any artist should be so prodigious is striking; for so much of Oldham's work to be so exceptional is even more remarkable. Of late, the tone of the one-time Palace Brother's recorded material and his live shows has been marked by a certain levity and, at times, jocularity, and so one might anticipate that Wolfroy Goes to Town would toe a similar line.