For the uninitiated, this Will Oldham fellow used more noms de musique than you've had hot breakfasts this year: Palace Songs, Palace Brothers, Palace, just plain Will Oldham (who's also an actor), and most recently Bonnie "Prince" Billy. In his early days as a "Palace" incarnation, he sang like a reclusive, half-mad fifth-grade dropout living in the hills of Alabama or Kentucky.
Lie Down in the Light finds Oldham/Billy with a smoother, more polished, subtly expressive vocal medium to convey his tales of love, longing, and obsession. At times he evokes a Southern Paul Simon (with a hint of vibrato), or Nick Drake if he grew up south of that Mason-Dixon line. Billy's lyrics are often discomforting in their raw candidness — accompanied by a plaintive female harmony, "So Everyone" features the desperately heartfelt chorus, O lady, O boy/Show how you want me, and do it so everyone sees me, while a mournful Salvation Army Band horn cries in the background. With its sighing pedal-steel guitar and acid-glazed guitar musings, the pulsing, resigned country-rocker "Where Is the Puzzle" (I knew everything once/and now I know it all again/bliss comes with conclusion, comes with an end) would be right at home on the Grateful Dead's Workingman's Dead (or maybe American Beauty).
Many of Billy's tunes and arrangements, combining the spare simplicity of folk with the casual anguish of country music and hints of gospel, have an almost velvety elegance recalling the offbeat semi-noirs of Lee Hazlewood. Light is twelve beguiling, bewildering Southern gothic vignettes, William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor with compassionate vocals and insinuating melodies. (Drag City)
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