Home Music Matt Sweeney/Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Superwolves

Matt Sweeney/Bonnie “Prince” Billy: Superwolves

Public taste is fickle, as Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy well know. Which is why Superwolves, their first album of new music in 16 years, is probably destined for the mp3 equivalent of the cutout bin. This is one of the great collaborations of modern-day music, but it’s no surprise the music business doesn’t make any sense. Proof of that came when Will Oldham (better known by the Bonnie “Prince” Billy moniker) discovered his best-selling digital song is a cover of the Everly Brother’s “Devoted to You” he recorded with Dawn McCarthy for What the Brothers Sang. Why it became the label’s biggest seller has to do with the fact that Jazzercise used it as a cool-down song on one of their workout compilations. This is indeed a very strange world.

When Sweeny and Oldham released Superwolf in 2005 there really was no expectation that another such record would ever be released, even though it would soon be talked about in hallowed terms. Everyone from Rick Rubin to Neil Young became part of the cult, even as the sales numbers failed to pile up. This was disappointing; Oldham has collaborated with everyone from Johnny Cash to Bjork, while Sweeney has played guitar with Iggy Pop, Adele, and Neil Diamond. Clearly these two are incredibly difficult to pin down. Superwolves is not likely to change that, although it should.

Old friends of over 25 years, Sweeney has described Oldham as his favorite singer, while Oldham warmly refers to Sweeney as a “private tour-guide ranger” who opens his ears to sounds he’s never heard before. Those sounds ended up on Superwolves, gestating for the last five years. Oldham provided lyrics to Sweeney, who put them to music. What they created incorporates so many different influences, from Tennessee to Tuareg, yet what makes this set of songs so special is the relationship the two have with each other.

Darkness haunts “Make Worry for Me” where the song seems to go down a rabbit hole filled with gentle unease building to a guitar solo reflecting deep uncertainty. After such an opener, you can’t be sure what will happen next, but you also can’t wait to find out. “Good to My Girls” seems gentle enough, acoustic guitar unfurling, but there is more than a little ugliness to the picture that Oldham paints: “They, they may cry but not to me/ They know I would not hear them/ There’s other folks and family/ Who hate me and I don’t fear them/ Fear them/ I fear the fact that after life, complete emptiness whirls.” Not exactly the picture that one expects, but that’s the whole point. As Sweeney points out, “What Will is great at is communicating how close horror is to love.”

Surprises creep up that set your expectations on their ear. “Hall of Death” is one of a handful of songs driven by the swirling guitar of Tuareg musician Mdou Moctar. Amidst the desert intensity shifts begin to occur. What had been filled with desert guitar drops away as Oldham sings, “It is clear no love is waiting there/ Wet with rain, I turn around/ And my baby’s here, the wind blows in her hair/ We turn around.” Moments change, and we must change with them.

Oldham’s lyrics have more than their share of surprises; nothing is ever exactly as it seems. The gentle lullaby of “God is Waiting” offers a suggestion that rips at the notions of heaven as it watches a dying woman linger a while before she comes to her momentous conclusion: “But I’m not waiting, no/ Not waiting anymore/ God can fuck herself/ And it does, hardcore.” The addition of a high harmony by Sweeney only serves to sweeten the lyrical dichotomy. Now that’s the kind of lyric you don’t hear every day.

Sometimes acoustic, sometimes electric, always electrifying, Superwolves defies the odds by being an even better LP than the one that preceded it 16 years ago. Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy fire on all cylinders to create the kind of music that engages hearts and minds.

Defying the odds with an even better LP than the one that preceded it 16 years ago, Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy fire on all cylinders to create the kind of music that engages hearts and minds.
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Reinvigorated Wolves Return

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