January 28, 2005

Shortcut - Bonnie "Prince Billy and Matt Sweeney

On the latest release from Will Oldham under the Bonnie "Prince" Billy moniker, we find him returning to his rockier, Palace side through the influence of former Chavez/Zwan singer-guitarist, Matt Sweeney. As tends to be the case with Will Oldham, this album is definitely the product of his own creativity and he remains at the helm throughout, despite the collaboration. The influence of Sweeney, though ever-present, does not steer Oldham off of his familiar and heavily beaten path of Southern crooning. Rather, Sweeney adds a great backbone of electric guitar to Oldham's own sound.

The album is livelier than Billy's previous work, departing from the quiet lullaby style heard on releases like Ease Down the Road and Master & Everyone. While there is an occasional change of tempo on some of the songs (see "Bed is For Sleeping"), as a whole this record sounds much more the work of a rock band than that of a man and his guitar. This comes as no surprise given Sweeney's background in rock bands as well as Oldham's own work in the various Palace projects.

On Superwolf, Oldham kicks around his perennial themes: love, loss, and spirituality. Each of these is explored in a dualistic way. Oldham allows himself to become both wistful and brooding, both resigned and possessed. These two moods coalesce to create a rather emotional album, in which Oldham once again bears his soul. Standout tracks include the opening, tone setting, "My Home is the Sea," as well as the lengthy penultimate track, "Blood Embrace." These two songs stand so high above the rest of the songs on Superwolf that we might at first be inclined to dismiss the album as a whole, proclaiming it to contain but a few gems, and little else of enduring worth.

However, Superwolf, like most Oldham releases, requires multiple listens in order for it to really impress itself upon the listener. After repeated close listenings as well as sessions in which the album plays as background music, Superwolf emerges as a truly great effort on behalf of Will Oldham (with welcome assistance from Sweeney). He has shown the listener that he still has more to offer.

While the album is not necessarily essential Will Oldham, given the extent of his back catalog, it is indeed a fantastic album and a welcome addition to his already staggering oeuvre. On Superwolf we find Oldham still in high command over both his creative and technical faculties. And, like any great Will Oldham album, Superwolf leaves the listener craving yet another moniker, yet another collaboration, and we are once again left anticipating more.