Bonny Prince Billy

By Demented Toddler

Billy always seems to be covering his own songs. This is partly because he changes his name more often than Diddy: Palace, Palace Music, Palace brothers, Will Oldham, the Continental Op, Bonnie Prince Billy, Superwolf. When he comes back/upon his songs they are simultaneously his and not his, each verse (a)version of what went before.
 
Even his performances of other people's music come across as renditions of his own work. His terrific version of R Kelly's fuel-injected classic, Ignition, is being downloaded like e-hotcakes. On Monday night Billy turned his attentions to Buried Treasure, a gibb-penned Kenny Rogers number from Eyes That See in the Dark. In Will's mouth the Bee Gees' words sounded oddly as though they were his own: "I could love you all of my life / you are my wife… we don't stand on ceremony / I love you only – I'm proud of it…" A mumbled introduction to Horses recognised that will didn't write it (it's by Sally Timms and Jon Langford) but its inclusion on 2004's Bonnie Prince Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music suggests otherwise. In that (un)covers record of his own songs, Oldham rises on the stepping-stones of his dead self, plucking the alt- from his alt-country, making merry with its melancholy.
 
It was not the first time will had done this. The forum gig opened with Riding, complemented by unambiguous pelvic thrusts from Will: "Who you gonna ride with boy? / I'm gonna bring my sister Lisa". This incarnation of the sinful tale of incest bore little resemblance to its quiet first recording (on There Is No-one What Will Take Care of You) or the recent Nashville rendering (from Bpbsgpm). Instead it recalled an earlier rerecording, from the Palace Music Lost Blues album: Riding (alt. version). That bracketed caveat might as well follow every performance of every song.  On Another Day Full of Dread he seemed to sing "nick nack, it's all a trap / bulbous and so was this…" shifting into the past tense from the "so is this" of I See a Darkness Original.
 
The delivery of his present Superwolf work cleaved closest to the sound of the record, Sweeney and Oldham working beautifully together on My Home Is the Sea, fluid guitar lines the perfect accompaniment to a voice which cracks less and less than it used to, leaving the deliberate cracks, traps and silences in the songwriting to do that work. Undoubtedly in the same league as Dylan, and as worthy of literary critics' attentions and pretensions, Billy continues his remarkable feat of being at once ironic and heartfelt. Visiting with him is nothing short of an (ir)religious experience, the delight of being a sinner and winner at the same time.

(all the best bits were Miles Jackson's idea)
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