Bonnie Prince Billy – ‘Now Here’s My Plan’ EP
In 1996, my friend, James, sent me a cassette tape of ‘Viva Last Blues’ and ‘Arise Therefore’ by Palace Music. James always found new music and often shared it with me. As I listened to the album on my old cassette deck, I read the accompanying letter (back then we wrote letters, on paper) and developed a jealous resentment because I hadn’t discovered him first.
I wore that tape out. It had a profound effect on me. I had found a new voice.
I tried to find other albums by this Will Oldham guy. I found a homemade-looking CD called ‘There Is No-one What Will Take Care Of You’ and it is one of my most treasured discs. I believe it is a masterpiece.
Over the last 18 years, I have managed to collect everything that Will Oldham has released, through his various ensembles, nom de plumes and stylistic changes. I have all the ‘Anomoanon’ records too. It really pokes a fork in my pickle, though, that I have yet to see him play live.
His most recent release, the EP ‘Now Here’s My Plan’ is a reworking of six classic songs, cut with the musicians he did a series of gigs with in 2011 – Ben Boye, Van Campbell, Emmett Kelly, Danny Kiely and Angel Olsen. They also played on ‘Wolfroy Goes to Town’.
The songs are: I Don’t Belong To Anyone, Beast For Thee, No Gold Digger, After I Made Love To You, I See A Darkness and Three Questions and the session was produced by Steve Albini.
The first time I heard Will Oldham’s voice, I loved it. It possesses a particular timbre and an odd, cracked quality that is instantly recognisable. It has a duality that appeals to me too – on one hand it is emotionally expressive but on the other, there is a wry detachment. He has an ironic twin who interrupts everything he does.
Oldham has historically been tagged as ‘melancholic’, ‘serious’ and/or ‘depressing’. This association is both limiting and misleading. Along with Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, he is one of the few writers who are unceasingly witty and can make me laugh out loud. There is pain, sadness and darkness, yes, but they are just some of the shadows his songs cast. There is so much more. One watch of his video for ‘I See A Darkness’ testifies to this. He is a comedian.
The recording is simple, clean and warm and the musicians are tight and fluid, as you would expect after touring together. They clearly has a good time with this project.
There is a strong 70s country rock vibe running through much of this EP, with sonic flavours of The Flying Burrito Brothers. There is much more of course. On ‘I See A Darkness’ the vocal harmonies sound as old as the Appalachian hills and would feel at home on a shellac 78. Later on they introduce backing-girl ‘ooh’s directly from Sun Studios. This is upbeat country, complete with spiky guitar fills.
The blend of vocal harmonies is gorgeous. Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris are my ultimate male and female vocal pairing, but on ‘Beast For Thee’, these guys come close.
Elsewhere, there are ancient folk drones and harmoniums, stunning Patsy Cline vocals and sublime pedal steels.
I can only guess the reasons why he chose to re-work these songs and if I met him, I wouldn’t bother asking, and even if I did, I doubt he’d be inclined to ponder it.
It is an ace collection of brilliant songs.
Will Oldham has said:
“What is normally called religion is what I would tend to call music — participating in music, listening to music, making records and singing. I think records and music are more appropriate and more respectful of the human soul than the churches are. And more respectful of the needs of humans to communicate with the aspects of themselves that are neglected by language. I don’t think people think about God so much as they think about themselves and how they’re going to get through life.”
I agree completely and I take my pew.
Words: Copyright © 2012 William Henry Prince
Photos: © James Finch. Used with Permission. All rights reserved. Please contact the owner for use.
All photos are from: Oct 2nd 2011 Birchmere Music Hall, Alexandria VA USA.