Bonnie “Prince” Billy “Lie Down in the Light” Drag City

by Jesse Hill

Will Oldham. The haunting, Appalachian shapeshifter: father, mother, son, daughter, minstrel, lumberjack, monster, goat, snake, earth, water, wind, and fire. His prolific body of work weaves in and out of the eastern side of the mountain’s morning sunlight and the darkness of the deep, briar filled forest it borders. His innocence as true as the pains of his experience, he leaves us with a balanced and consistent view of an existent reality mostly lost on the present. Each album reminds us of something that we continually forget which, in the words of “Lie Down in the Light,” is essentially this:

“for every drought there’s a rain;”

“it’s true that I cried, but then I went outside and I stood very still in the night, and I looked at the sky and knew someday everything would be alright;”

“there’s a time to sing these things and I time to have them sung.”

Through song, we complete nature’s regeneration and can eventually rejoice at it, and we must always remind ourselves of this, nature’s blessing, in the darkest of our hours. And with “Lie Down in the Light,” Oldham does some of that reminding exceptionally well with some of his most “earthily” uplifting songs.

Opener “Easy Does It” is an inviting jam on which Oldham sings, “with good earthily music flowing into my head,” as he uses his voice as a kazoo-like horn happily humming, “boop-be-doooop,” and prepping you for the album’s shine. “For Every Field There’s a Mole” and title track “Lie Down in the Light” keep up this playfulness with thwumping country bass lines, organically experimental instrumentation (like the jazz gone gypsy clarinet on “Mole”), and obvious but enlightening suggestions such as if “when the sun welcomes us in (why should we do anything but lie down in the light?)” Duets (with Ashley Webber) “So Everyone” and “YouWant That Picture” have a feathery theatric quality reminiscent of Fievel and his sister’s duet “Somewhere Out There” from an American Tale or my boyhood favorite “There’s a Hole in my Bucket (Dear Liza/Dear Georgey),” but beneath their childlike veneer they are genuinely moving songs about physical and/or metaphysical separation. A couple of the more eerie, Tommy Makem gone Townes Van Zandt folk-country songs on the album include “You Remind me of Something” (not to be confused with R. Kelley’s song of the same title) and “Keep Eye on Other’s Gain,” each of which suggest the same darkness-beneath-the-innocence of the sixties folk revival. And the closer “I’ll Be Glad,” my personal favorite, is a river baptism gone Holy Ghost hop complete with church organ, pedal steel, and choir on which Oldham concludes:

“when you get your flock together, please take me along
lord I’m too weak to travel, I’ll be glad you’re strong

(cue the choir!) and I’ll lean on your arm!”

If only it were six or so minutes longer…

The only thing critical to say about “…Light” is that it is hard to say much more about this album than that it is a very good Bonnie “Prince” Billy album. It does little to suggest much growth and there was little done with it to gain new fans, which could be totally fine with the seemingly sure Oldham. Because just as nature is regenerative, it is also gradual, sometimes too gradual for the expectations of the jittery, anxiety ridden, modern American twit. Likewise, Oldham will lose no current BPB fans with this one. They will stand by him and cheer him on for refusing to cater to the expectations created by the flah-in-pan-to-make-a-buck music industry. (And besides, new fans can still be got by older albums. There’s always the old guy working at the coffee shop to introduce the new kid to BPB via Johnny Cash’s cover of “I See a Darkness.”)

Bonnie \"Prince\" Billy: Lie Down in the Light


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