BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY – SINGER'S GRAVE A SEA OF TONGUES

singers grave

So I’ve been practicing my Dirk Gently-esque method of finding new music in this futuristic year of 2015, and I bring you something forth. I was out at breakfast, and when I came back to my car someone had parked in front of me. It was a Toyota Yaris with one window busted out (fixed with black plastic and duct tape) and plenty of bumper stickers. One bumper sticker in particular caught my eye: “Fuck the birds in the bushes”, it proclaimed. I got out of my car and looked at the fine print to see who or what this amazing statement could have come from.

Well here. It came from this.

I suppose Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy is a name I should know, one amongst many. I was able to glean something of Billy (actually Will Holdham)’s life story from other reviews, but that doesn’t matter to me. It also doesn’t matter that this record is primarily re-engineered versions of songs from a previous record. For those of us in the small time, the journey and the destination get to be the same thing.

A Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues is a slow record, full of soft lows that build to towering highs. Oldham’s voice is at once rough and lilting, the sort of honest folk sound countless record labels are trying to capture like Dr. Claw. There are plenty of country elements to the album; the opening track, “Night Noises”, eases the listener in with steady banjo picking and the melodic voice of pedal steel. “Night noises are my noises,” Oldham sings, “And soiled doves are my birds”. This is definitely a Ninebullets record.

There’s a life to the songs, carried by one of the deftly wielded accoutrements of the record: the aforementioned pedal steel, a thrumming electric guitar, a haunting fiddle, or (most notably) the gospel sound of the McCrary¬† sisters. Any or all of these can take a song from soft and dark to blaring in triumph and right back again, and sometimes do. The quote from the bumper sticker is from the track “Quail and Dumplings”, which starts out as a forlorn plea and lamenting of one’s present circumstances before building in both lyrical content and soulful sound to an embrace of life as it is, and not as you had once hoped it would be. Many of these songs walk similar lines, turning their subject matter on its head even as the music evolves around it. Another pleasant change of perspective was in the song “Whipped”, a story of a man who’s found love and no longer raises hell with the boys. “Lion tamer, pride life re-framer/That warm pot of gold always waiting, fear abating, to welcome me home/From the cold” he sings, the McCrary sisters beginning to raise their voices behind him, an ode to a facet of love so often looked at from the other side of the gender gap.

A Singer’s Grave A Sea Of Tongues is a record you have to chew on, but it’s worth the mastication. Oldham’s odes to the common man who happens to find himself a very uncommon man will grow on you, and the weaving of traditional folk and gospel sounds will scratch an itch you didn’t know you had.

As far as I can tell, there’s no official Facebook or Twitter pages for Oldham or Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, so I can’t link to those. But his website is over here, and here is where you can buy the record.

Night Noises
Quail and Dumplings
We Are Unhappy

 

3 thoughts on “BONNIE 'PRINCE' BILLY – SINGER'S GRAVE A SEA OF TONGUES”

  1. I really like this record. I played it on the radio some. I’m only vaguely familiar with Oldham’s work, he has a song that Johnny Cash recorded, but I can say that this album is one of his most upbeat ones. For me, he falls into the category with Iron & Wine and folks like that. Stuff that I enjoy but don’t listen to often but I think I’ll listen to more as I age.

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