Music

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Summer in the Southeast

Kevin Jagernauth

Will the real Will Oldham please stand up?"


Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Summer in the Southeast

Label: Sea Note
US Release Date: 2005-11-15
UK Release Date: 2005-11-07
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

The one and only time I saw Bonnie "Prince" Billy perform was at a huge, outdoor show in Montreal, where he opened for Björk. It was an odd choice on an even odder bill (Yeah Yeah Yeahs were also scheduled to play directly before Björk) but Will Oldham seemed to relish playing for an audience who wasn't immediately receptive to his songs. As he launched into "One with the Birds" accompanied by nothing except his autoharp, my friends couldn't believe that I was watching in rapt attention. In fact, one my friends couldn't even believe I owned any albums by this mysterious, bearded man who seemed to be dancing on one leg, and demanded I show him the vinyl to prove it. Another friend once recalled seeing a Palace show in which Oldham sat with his back to the audience for the entire gig. Certainly, performing live is yet another avenue for the chameleon-like Oldham not only to re-present his songs but also his persona.

The tracks for the all live Summer in the Southeast were recorded last year on Will Oldham's brief summer jaunt. Focusing mostly on small towns and tiny venues, it would appear that this would be the perfect opportunity for Oldham's intimate songs to come to life. And they certainly do. With a six-piece backing band that includes longtime producer Paul Oldham and young singer-songwriter Pink Nasty, Summer in the Southeast does its best to upend the image of Will Oldham as a solitary troubadour of modern Americana.

Spanning 17 tracks and lasting over an hour, Summer in the Southeast certainly isn't lacking in quantity and touches upon nearly every facet of Oldham's career. Kicking off with the title track off Master and Everyone it isn't long until Oldham's supporting players make their present known. The track is pumped full of distorted, openly strummed guitars and raw percussion. And much of Oldham's repertoire is given the barroom band overhaul. "Break of Day", "A Sucker's Evening" and "O Let It Be" are among the many tunes reinvented. But none of it works. Oldham's strength has always been in the subtleties of his songs and the intimacy of his voice. Instead of amplifying and strengthening the already delicate structure of his songs, Oldham and company strangely strip the songs of any emotion.

In presenting these songs in extraordinarily ordinary rock 'n' roll surroundings the group numb the complexity and vulnerability that make them so powerful. "I See a Darkness" is rendered powerless when turned into a drunken sing a long, while Pink Nasty's lead singing, and the ramped up tempo of "May It Always Be" awkwardly take the song from the front porch to the arena. Thus, it's not surprising that the album's best songs are the ones that find the band holding back the most. From Guarapero/Lost Blues 2, "Take However Long You Want" is stoic in its quiet dignity, while "Nomadic Revery" is possibly even more haunted than the studio take on I See a Darkness. But these are brief opportunities that Oldham allows his audience to get close, choosing instead to coat the bulk of the album in heavy sonic washes.

Will Oldham occupies a unique position in the music underground. His past successes have garnered him a large following who generally indulge and support Oldham in whatever direction he decides to take. He has won favor with a wide array of unique artists, and his long list of collaborators is impressive. It's been over two years since Bonnie "Prince" Billy's last proper album, and the intervening releases have shown a Will Oldham who is trying to understand his position in the rock underground. 2004 saw the release of the squeaky clean, Nashville seasoned reinvention of Sings Palace Songs. With Summer in the Southeast, Will Oldham continues to reconsider and even perhaps belittle, his extensive and often accomplished back catalogue. But instead of finding new corners, opening new emotions and walking down hidden avenues, Oldham distances both himself and his fans from the songs that have resonated with truth and beauty in their original presentation. By continuing to question his relationship to songs that reach far back into his history, Oldham seems unable to move forward.

4

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image