Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Ease Down The Road

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Ease Down The Road

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Album: Ease Down The Road
Label: Palace
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Album: Ease Down The Road
Label: Palace

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Confounding under the best of circumstances, Will Oldham further confused admirers in 1997 by retiring "Palace," the name under which (with variations) he'd recorded for most of the decade. After a handful of releases under his own name, Oldham introduced his new moniker, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, in 1998. If his reasons, as usual, remain obscure, the second BPB album suggests a possible motivation. With his early Palace releases, Oldham seemed to attempt in music what Faulkner and Hardy did in literature with their counties of Yoknapatawpha and Wessex, respectively: carving mythic spaces out of real geography. For Oldham, it was a stretch of rural America crossed by dirt roads, littered with whiskey bottles, and ruled by an unforgiving God. Through borrowed Appalachian folk notions and antiqued vocals, Oldham created a new vision of America's haunted hillsides. If Oldham's Bonnie "Prince" Billy releases don't really mark a retreat from that territory, they do feature a significant new emphasis on the humanity of those who live there, both in their music and their lyrics. Most of the characters of the new Ease Down The Road even seem capable of happiness, or at least the hope of happiness, an emotion once virtually unheard of in Oldham's universe. Sometimes, they sound surprised by joy. "Baby, why don't we feel guilty / why's it seem we're doing right / when we're doing something filthy / in a rented room tonight," Oldham ponders on "After I Made Love To You," sounding like a man waking up from the threat of damnation. Relaxed enough to sound tossed-off, Ease's songs possess a lovely back-porch quality. The expansive cast of guests, including Slint guitarist David Pajo and backing vocalist Harmony Korine, only adds to the album's appeal. The variable musical quality of Oldham's prolific output has made him difficult to follow, but Ease Down The Road's focused beauty places it among the best work of his odd career.

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