April 29, 2004

Test Spin: Bonnie "Prince" Billy

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The appeal of Will Oldham’s music rests largely on the empty spaces that reside within his songs. And while this statement sounds senseless on the surface, that doesn’t make it any less true. Like the cover art explains, Greatest Palace Music finds Oldham’s most popular moniker, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, performing what fans have selected as the finest material from his Palace days.

Essentially the lo-fi alt-country version of We Invented the Remix, Greatest Palace Music fills in all the aforementioned empty spaces with mixed results. On the new versions, the originals’ sparseness is traded for a traditional Nashville sound, replete with slide guitars and fiddles. The overall feeling is slightly more upbeat, but unfortunately the grave emotion of the Palace versions is sacrificed. Oldham’s deeply affecting vocals, normally the hallmark of his work, are removed from their familiar position at the forefront of the tracks’ production and are crammed in with the newly increased instrumentation. They become overly polished as a result. Put simply, Oldham’s voice doesn’t crack anymore. Some songs (I’m looking at you, “Pushkin”) are simply ruined. At times, Oldham’s experiment almost works, in that the new songs are fairly enjoyable alternatives to their predecessors, but that’s a pretty loose definition of success. Frankly, there’s little reason to place any of the Greatest Palace Music songs above the originals. But to say that Greatest Palace Music is a bad album must only be done in relative terms.

Archived article by Ross McGowan
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer