Bonnie “Prince” Billy (Re-Review)
Beware - DRAG CITY
FILTER Grade: 92% / Re-Review: 86%
By Staff on June 30, 2011
We're not perfect and, let's face it, sometimes hindsight is truly 20/20. It's with that spirit that we approach the FILTER Re-Review, a second chance for us to evaluate our opiniony opinions on records from past FILTER magazines. How does the record hold up now that we've had years to contemplate and listen? What would we give the record if it was coming out in the next issue? FILTER's editorial staff sat down to scratch their heads on a few releases and present to you: The Re-Review.
What are some records you think we did wrong? Leave 'em in the comments and we might just give them a second look.
Then, We Said:
Whether as a lover, a musician, or just a contemporary troubadour, Will Oldham has always possessed an escape route, one that often involves a new name and a new posse. But after a decade of writing and recording countless songs as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, he and his ever-improving voice seem to have found a space that suits his ever-wayfaring soul. On Beware, which plays like a kindred yet larger spirit to last summer’s Lie Down in the Light, the mood is undeniably American, and Bonny (or Oldham) seems incomprehensibly at peace with his hallmark solitude.
From start to finish, the sense of isolation is heart-wrenching in a manner that’s both at odds and in perfect accord with the harmonious union Bonny finds with the album’s other players. Midway through the opening “Beware Your Only Friend,” he whispers, “we both flail too much to let the other near,” before the strings and strums dissolve, fittingly, into near silence. But after less than a half note’s rest, a plucked guitar finds a friend in a string crescendo, and percussive taps pave the way for a heavenly chorus of oohs. It’s warm, rich, and familiar, and it suggests that, while those flailing lovers can’t collapse the distance between themselves, Bonny and his band seem close as can be. Of course, “suggests” is the operative word. “You don’t love me,” the singer later proclaims in the impossibly catchy song of that name, “but that’s alright, because you cling to me all through the night.” He might as well be crooning over his band, an ever-changing line-up of players (some familiar, some new) with whom Bonny can share the stage or a studio, just as he might open his bed for a one-night stand or a winter-long fling. But as good as it might be for the duration of that night—and for the duration of Beware—you get the feeling he’ll still be gone in the morning. PATRICK JAMES
(originally ran in FILTER 34 Winter '09)
Now, We're Like:
Original Rating: 92%
Original Review Said: "On Beware, the mood is undeniably American, and Bonny (or Oldham) seems incomprehensibly at peace with his hallmark solitude.”
Are We Still Listening?: Yes, but not as often as A) we thought we would be after first discovering it, and B) we listen to the other proper Bonnie “Prince” Billy albums.
Reputation: The Bonnie “Prince” Billy catalog grows considerably with each passing year—or month, really. This proper full-length may or may not have been designed as his big-ticket (well, relatively speaking) foray into original big-number country music. There are fewer of the oddball moments or quiet, unproduced song sketches we’ve come to expect from Oldham. This is the big one—polished, full, clean, assured. It’s got some nuggets, but as we failed to notice, it’s also got some…well, track-skippers. Ain’t nobody perfect, and Oldham is typically as close as an American songwriter can be these days, and this is still a great record, but maybe not that good. We coulda held our horses a bit more.
Re-Review Rating: 86%—we may have been a bit ahead of ourselves out of the box, but this is still a gorgeous affair.