Monday, October 20, 2008

Lie Down in the Light - Bonnie "Prince" Billy (Autumn Records 2008)

Lie Down in the Light

Bonnie “Prince” Billy
Drag City Records.

SCQ Rating: 82%

Few songwriters in modern indie circles approach the prolific nature or musical dexterity of Will Oldham (AKA Bonnie “Prince” Billy, or a slew of other aliases). On pace with at least a record a year, Oldham is constantly reevaluating the ingredients that define folk from rock. Following up 2006’s The Letting Go is Lie Down in the Light; Oldham’s rootsiest effort yet, which channels front-porch country as often as his penchant for intimate folk.

Although released in the crest of summer, Lie Down in the Light’s themes, a near-paranormal blend of spirituality and darkness, are better-suited to Autumn’s severe skies. The reflective quality of ‘Willow Trees Bend’, a world-weary meditation backed by a field of crickets, or the pedal-steel gospel of ‘I’ll Be Glad’ present Oldham at his most introspective, with arrangements ruminating like dead leaves in the breeze. Such quietly uplifting numbers are empowered by an opposition, left nameless but at this critic’s suspicion is as old and assured as death itself, that lurks in the ominous moods of ‘You Remind Me of Something’ and ‘What’s Missing Is’. Representing occasional shadows over his rural landscape, these tracks give grace to both ends of Oldham’s spirituality; the fundamental joys of life (“There’s my brothers, my girlfriend, my mom and my dad, and there’s me, and that’s all there needs to be,” as recited in ‘Easy Does It’) and the watchful acknowledgement of death (“I’m disappearing into the wind,” he realizes in ‘Where’s the Puzzle?”).

Oldham’s seamless blend of folk, country and rock influences is further fleshed out by a wide palette of instruments: the electric piano and mute trumpet in ‘For Every Field There’s a Mole’, some awesome fiddle-accompaniment in ‘You Remind Me of Something’, plus a gang of organs, woodwinds, and electric guitar to assist the piano, acoustic and pedal-steels used throughout. Another welcome instrument on display is a female voice, most prominent in duets ‘So Everyone’ and ‘You Want that Picture’. Such an ample selection of instruments provide warmth and roundness to Lie Down in the Light, a folk record that never feels redundant.

For a time of year that many cultures respect and symbolize as the season of death, Autumn is when this album might strike the best chord, hushed but complex in its full-band performances. Putting the listener at peace while conjuring ancient spirits is a paradox only Bonnie “Prince” Billy seems confidently able to accomplish. Lie Down in the Light is among his most focused and eloquent.

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