William Oldham, better known by the aristocratic Bonnie Prince Billy has for decades now been crafting wistful, 21st century Robert Frost ballads so many younger musicians have poorly attempted to rather mixed results. A lesser critic might apply the term singer/songwriter to the Bonnie Prince, but his latest album Singer’s Grave a Sea of Tongues displays a depth of songwriting and understanding of production dynamics that separates him from the glut of coffeehouse poets bottle necking the acoustic scene.
Introspection is the medium of amateurs and the washed up. While universal themes like love and heartache provide ripe ground for artistic expression, those subjects carry all the depth of an internet meme. It is only through the application of narrative based detail substance emerges from the generics of lyrical artifice. On tracks like “Quail and Dumplings” Prince Billy undertakes the typical bottom up starving artist theme. Referencing the old adage about the security of a bird in the hand, he sings “Fuck the birds in the bushes,” after emphatically announcing god as a woman. The lyrics propel the theme of ambition idolatry by the privileged artistic class through clever word play. “One day it’s going to be quails and dumplings for me.”
On “Singer’s Grave” Oldham forges a new path, turning his back to past works as referenced in early track ‘So Far and Here We Are,’ in lines like “I started in old world, and have come now to new.” Oldham retains the brutal lyrical honest and skepticism he’s displayed so well since the nineties, but the production value and backing instrumentation on ‘Singer’s Grave’ break new ground for an artist many were ready to pigeon hole as just another white dude with a guitar.