The frequency and lack of fanfare with which Will Oldham releases new material means it’s often easy to miss bits and pieces along the way. News of his latest Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy offering, Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues, sprang up with just a few weeks’ notice and was accompanied by a promotional drive that amounted to a page of album bio and what appears to be a parody audio track of the kind of bizarre, nonsensical radio interview that Billy Bob Thornton might be embarrassed about.
In many ways this is a record for ardent fans, the kind who may have the time and inclination to ponder the circumstances of the album’s release. Otherwise, there’s not much new here to get excited about, on paper at least, even though it’s a more than decent record. Many of the tracks are versions of songs from the 2011 release Wolfroy Goes to Town — however, where that record was at times ponderous and listless, this is full of urgency and warmth. Take, for example, ‘We Are Unhappy’, a song that previously might have soundtracked the running down of a battery — here it swells in a blush of banjo, pedal steel and gospel-flecked harmonies. Oldham drafted in gospel singers the McCrary sisters and mandolin player Chris Scruggs to supplement the bigger, brighter sound that drives this collection, but the songs were always here, waiting for their turn as Americana-spiritual show-stoppers. Songs such as the Old Match, There Will Be Spring and Whipped, which spring into life in fuller, more joyous and more intricate incarnations. It’s rare to hear Oldham in such emphatic voice but there is something unmistakably upbeat and uplifting at work here.
Review by: Rachel Devine
Watch the new video for Quail and Dumplings below, “enhanced by the fiddle of Billy Contreras and the remarkable voice of the well-travelled Caroline Peyton. The song alludes to travellers who may be unclear on when their next meal is coming, but are still determined to keep their positive outlook on the journey of life. And much like the song itself, the video for “Quail and Dumplings” operates with a set of conflicting perspectives!”
Quail and Dumplings will be available on 7″ (RUG633) and as a 2 track Digital Bundle (RUG633D) backed with “Pull Your Eyes Out, Molly”.
18 November: St John’s, London, UK
19 November: St John’s, London, UK
20 November: AB, Brussels, Belgium
21 November: Le Guess Who Festival, Utrecht, Netherlands
Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues released via Domino in UK
Order via Amazon