You could spend half your life attempting to collect all the curiosities in the Bonnie “Prince” Billy oeuvre and still miss something. So you should know that this collection doesn’t cover all the sessions BPB did with legendary BBC radio man John Peel. Instead, BPB has given us a collection that comes off like an intended album, as though he entered the studio with the idea of cutting and releasing these songs in the manner in which they appear here. But it didn’t happen that way.

The 12 tunes captured here were recorded across an octave of years with our man Bonnie accompanied by David Heumann on the first four, then flying solo for the rest. The unifying factor here is that the mood is somber and intimate—it seems as though we can feel our hero standing next to us and see his chest rise and fall in those haunting lines of “When Thy Song Flows Through Me” or the sometimes frightening and tension fraught verses of “The Houseboat (O How I Enjoy The Light).” On these and others here, BPB sounds as though he’s making field recordings for the end of the last century, as though we are anthropologists discovering some primitive genius somewhere on the backroads of America.

Of course, in some ways we are. Will Oldham, the man who birthed Bonnie “Prince” Billy from his fertile imagination, has always had ties to that part of the American landscape, rendering songs spare and steeped in the rural tradition, eschewing ornamentation and the concrete in favor of something deeper, more enigmatic. “Death to Everyone” is equal parts a complaint, a prayer and maybe a curse delivered by an oracle who knows there’s no road out of wherever it is we’ve just traveled to. And those who’ve found Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska to be a portrait of darkness and despair should really sit down with “Jolly Five (64),” which lacks the Boss’s sense of the romantic and sentimental and instead works its magic by opening a vein of darkness that cannot be penetrated by light. Oldham/BPB has, of course, always excelled at interpreting the songs of others, and this collection offers more of that with a fascinating take on Prince’s “The Cross,” which here sounds as though it were conceived by BPB himself and perhaps even in the moments in which he’s delivering the song.

“Idol on the Bar,” though, feels like a standard ripped from some forgotten musical with lines that feel like allusions to something embedded deep in the heart of a compelling and distant narrative, one that we cannot turn away from. Sung in a voice that is ragged and fraying, moving and startling, comforting and disturbing, this is an appropriate collapse to the album, a closing that resonates long after the record has wound to its end. And it serves as a lovely counterpoint to the opening “(I Was Drunk at the) Pulpit,” the closest you might find anything here to commercial.

Oldham’s music has always been about authenticity (constructed persona aside) and there’s certainly plenty of that to go around in the time that passes between this record’s beginning and end. Oldham reportedly did six sessions with Peel, with only half of those represented here. Not bad, especially when you consider that this stands as one of BPB’s best.

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