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Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Sings Greatest Palace Music

Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Sings Greatest Palace Music

Label:Palace/Drag City
Release Date:2004

Palace/Drag City

By John Duffy | Posted 5/5/2004

As the driving force and only permanent player behind the Palace name (Palace Songs, Palace Brothers), Will Oldham subverted and celebrated American folk traditions at the same time on albums and singles from 1992-'97. For Sings Greatest Palace Music, Oldham re-recorded 14 singles and album tracks from that era with the help of seasoned Nashville session players, recasting them into something akin to countrypolitan. Think syrupy smooth pedal steel, warm guitar, stately piano, swooning choral backgrounds, and mellow strings.

The results, though somewhat spotty, are worth noting even for those who have never made the leap into Oldham's dark, anti-folk world. Radically recasting both sides of the sublime "Gulf Shores"/ "West Palm Beach" single, Oldham sings in a warm and deeply supple tone, and with what could charitably be called precision. "I Am a Cinematographer" becomes a campfire sing-along, and the sweetly glistening "New Partner" eclipses even those grand Cosmic American productions Gram Parsons attempted in the early 1970s in his own attempt at Nashville slick.

Only "Pushkin" isn't improved by the change in approach, sounding as creepy as ever. And "Ohio River Boat Song," the Scots-Irish fiddle ballad (titled "Lach Tay Boat Song") adapted as the first Palace single in 1992, is a true failure; once a whimsical, wonderfully clumsy folk tune, it's been reduced to a pointlessly corny two-step. As for why a songwriter who spent the first years of his career being as unconventional as possible would suddenly embrace the cool and sophisticated conventions of yesterday's mainstream country, so far, Oldham isn't telling. And trying to decipher him or his habits is a dicey chore.

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