Veritas Est Rock

Paul Karner

I often find myself complaining about the rampant commercialism in mainstream music as well as the underground scene. With more and more outlets for artists to get exposure apart from the stage and the record stores, it seems that marketing has become the dominant art form in the work of too many artists these days.
Amidst the MySpace panhandling, iTunes song-peddling, and hordes of artists pining after that coveted Pitchfork review, it’s painfully refreshing when an artist like Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – the moniker of singer-songwriter Will Oldham – seems to live and breathe in his music.
Through his constant collaboration with other musicians and his steady evolution as an artist, Oldham has never allowed himself to be pinned down by a certain sound or much less an image – Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is one of some six different names under which Oldham’s music has been released. Oldham’s exploration and experimentation in his live shows has translated beautifully to his rich array of albums.
His most recent release “The Letting Go” (2006, Drag City) is the perfect example of Oldham’s virtuosic songwriting flourishing as the artist once again explores unknown territory.
The album was recorded in Reykjavik, Iceland with an Icelandic string quartet that adds to the songs with some of the most delicately rich accompaniments that seem to take their lead from the humble acoustic guitar. Vocalist Dawn McCarthy accompanies Oldham with her sweet voice that never really reaches the foreground with Oldham’s rather gruff crooning. The echoing soprano gives the album a spaciousness that adds a degree of contemplativeness – almost timelessness – to Oldham’s deeply personal lyrics.
The opening track “Love Comes to Me” glistens with the Kentucky-born singer’s keenly lush imagery: “I’m a hard-hearted honey-pot, hungry shepherd and I’m longing to be born for you.” The southern lilt of Oldham’s voice, which he exploits to various degrees, sounds broken at times and prudent at others. The songs move among weighty subjects of love, loss, and resignation on “The Letting Go,” but when put together there is an unmistakable sense of gratitude and wonderment that makes the album so uplifting. In “I Called You Back,” Oldham sings to a past lover, “Love found us easily / If that’s all we have / you will find we need nothing more.”
Will Oldham has never failed to spread his creative wings and tackle each album as if it were a new adventure. When critics discuss the imminent death of The Album as we know it due to recent technology, they seem to miss the real reason albums are becoming seemingly less important: Artists just aren’t making them. Fueled by his restlessness as an artist, Oldham has managed to create albums that are true works of art, and for that he deserves all the praise in the world.