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Will Oldham: Ease Down the Road

Will Oldham: Ease Down the Road

Release Date:2001
Genre:Singer/Songwriter (Rock/Pop)

By Lee Gardner | Posted 7/25/2002 6:00:00 PM

Ease Down the Road (Palace) finds Bonnie "Prince" Billy (aka Charm City transplant Will Oldham) easing into what seems to be his Nashville Skyline period. Like Bob Dylan's 1969 country-music retrenchment, singer/guitarist Oldham's latest album is more musically bucolic and easygoing than his past work. Like Skyline, its lyrics focus largely on l'amour.

In fact, the album finds Oldham easing into an unprecedented number of lovely and relatively straightforward tunes about connubial bliss and the joy of sex: "May It Always Be," the downright prayerful "After I Made Love to You," "Rich Wife Full of Happiness," and so on. The vibe is certainly much more early-'70s singer/songwriter--gentle guitars, piano, drums played with brushes--though the pure and piercing beauty of the airy, almost a cappella "Careless Love" is likely to bring all those sloughed-off "Appalachian" clichés right back down on his head. Even the breakup song "At Break of Day" sounds warm as a new sunrise, with Oldham harmonizing with himself on the catchiest tune he's ever written.

Yet, as is usual for Oldham's work, Ease Down the Road is a bit more complicated than it first appears. Yes, his romantic rapture is so direct and finely observed here that it's tempting to take it as confessional writing, but his trademark lyrical obfuscation and darker themes hover just outside the domestic glow. The title track is a love song, all right--a travelogue of an adulterous affair--and "Mrs. William" cops to similar activity. "A King at Night," "Sheep," and "Grand Dark Feeling of Emptiness" ease down the road, aurally, but the lyrics are more akin to Bonnie "Prince" Billy's 1999 benchmark I See a Darkness--not an easy album at all. Ease Down the Road is a very different effort from Darkness, but it is every bit as good, not the least because it carries a certain darkness of its own underneath its rumpled covers.

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