March 26, 2009

Test Spin: Bonnie Prince Billy

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“I want to be your only friend,” folk-rock journeyman Will Oldham announces on the opening track of his new album, Beware, his latest musical venture under the moniker Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
Loneliness and introspection abound on Beware, an album on which Oldham, despite his blustering opening line, doesn’t sound at all self-assured.
Musically, Beware channels Oldham’s characteristic blend of folk, Appalachia, rock and bluegrass. His singing is gentle and rich in timbre, qualities that lend added resonance to his lyrics, though they are certainly strong enough to stand on their own. Nearly all of the songs on Beware find Oldham grappling, in one way or another, with his lonely old self — and with poignant results. “There’s a body made just for me / lying somewhere curled lonely,” Oldham laments on “I Don’t Belong to Anyone,” a dolorous song blending drowsy accordion, mandolin and slow-strummed acoustic guitar.
Yet by the end of Beware, Oldham still seems unwilling to acknowledge his loneliness. “Alone I may be / but afraid ain’t me,” he sings feebly on the closing track. Listeners, though, if they’ve paid attention, won’t be convinced. Not that it matters — solitude fits Oldham just fine.