The one who “transfigures American music”

Will Oldham, the Palace/Palace Music/Palace Brothers chameleon, who has been releasing a series of stunning albums and weird EPs since 1999’s I See A Darkness under the Bonnie Prince Billy moniker, will be making a rare Asheville stop in support of his excellent new album, Beware (Drag City).

Someday Bonnie Prince will come: Fans have waited years for another local show from the alt-Americana icon. Photos by Jesse Fischler.

If you aren’t familiar with Bonnie Prince Billy, check out what you’re missing. Consider: He is oft hailed as perhaps the best songwriter of the thirty-something generation. Johnny Cash covered Oldham’s “I See A Darkness” shortly before he died, and the independently-signed artist has been courted by a fawning mainstream media. Last month he was interviewed in Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker recently published a feature that deemed Oldham as one who “transfigures American music” (whatever that means). Oldham just returned from another successful European tour, selling out most shows including the Royal Festival Hall in London. 

Oldham has earned a dedicated fan base, amassing a collection of songs unparalleled in the so-called realm of Americana. With each album (nearly one per year lately), his prolific songwriting becomes more focused and taut—and Beware has some of his most sophisticated and brilliant songs yet. Its huge, sweeping melodies are memorable and simple, but the arrangements are often unexpected and complex. A couple of the tracks on Beware, “I Won’t Ask Again” and “You Are Lost,” bring to mind late Buffalo Springfield-era Neil Young, but without the bloated arrangements, Sgt. Pepper-production techniques and lyrical pretentions. Written with the support of a grant from The Headlands Center of the Arts, Beware‘s lyrics seem personal and direct. And then there’s Oldham’s first real “hit” in years: the catchy and ironic “I Am Goodbye.” Check out the hilarious video for it on www.dragcity.com.

Mark Capon at Harvest Records (co-producing the show with The Grey Eagle) says the performance will likely sell out, so get tickets now—Oldham is not to be missed. The last Bonnie Prince Billy performance in Asheville (at The Orange Peel in 2004) was one of the best concerts I’ve ever heard (some of the songs were included on his 2005 live album, Summer in the Southeast). 

Oldham is also known for constantly rearranging his songs and juggling different instrumentations and musicians, and the current tour has The Dirty Three’s Jim White, one of the best drummers around.

For those who have waited five long years for Oldham’s Asheville return, the warm, intimate atmosphere of The Grey Eagle is perfect. Eagle co-owner Jeff Whitworth, a fan of Oldham’s work for many years, explains, “Bonnie Prince Billy and The Grey Eagle are a perfect match, and we couldn’t be happier that our time together has finally come.”

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[Wayne Robbins plays with the Hellsayers (also Hopewell and Electric Owls) Saturday night, May 23, at Broadway’s. ]

who: Bonnie Prince Billy, with Lichens
what:
where: The Grey Eagle
when: Wednesday, May 27 (9 p.m. $16 advance, $18 day of show. www.thegreyeagle.com)

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One thought on “The one who “transfigures American music”

  1. Brad Burleson

    Anybody got an extra ticket to sell? I have one but desperately need another for my wife.

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