The most recent release by actor/musician Bonnie “Prince” Billy (nee William Oldham), What the Brothers Sang, delivers thirteen tracks of salt-of-the-earth humanity. Long known for honest, self-aware lyrics the newest album doesn’t stray far from past accomplishments. It’s a tried and true method for our young Prince and it works.
The addition of Dawn McCarthy adds an element of duality to the normally single point of view offered on past albums. Their voices are more than suitably matched and the record would seem like a hard sell without her vocal accompaniment. It is uncertain whether or not this spells a permanent ensemble project but for the present work she proves indispensable.
One listen to track three, “Milk Train,” illustrates this point best. The frenzied flute lines and cooing vocal filler harkens one to a previous era, but without the feminine alto contribution of Ms. McCarthy it is doubtful the breakdown wherein Prince Billy heart-brokenly reflects on the sadness and isolation of love lost would come off so authentically or have such an impact.
As a whole the album is rife with traditional instrumentation and lyric writing. There is nothing coy or pithy about the work, and while many would think this implies a lack of wit or else style, it feels rather comforting to hear someone soberly, honestly relate their devotion to another. I don’t mean to imply there’s no muscle to the album, see “Somebody Help Me,” if you reserve doubts about that, however in an age where over the top statements and its in your face sonic equivalent are so prevalent, it becomes radical in and of itself to speak rather than shout, to suggest rather than demand.
Another highlight is “Omaha.” Those familiar with the city will be left scratching their heads at why one would base a song within its clean, well delineated confines, but to listen to the back and forth between the duet the message becomes clear. Home is where the heart is, and if your sweetheart happens to reside in a dull (even by mid-west standards) minor city situated in the bountiful wastelands of Kansas, well Omaha would look pretty good to you too. And the delivery, the swelling crescendos contrasted against soft build-ups will leave the chorus line namesake surfacing in your mind for days. “It seems that I’ve found everything that I’ve wanted/ It’s all in Omaha.” Well said, Sir Billy. The rest of the world doesn’t matter.
For an exciting addition to a genre that has been long accused of being exhausted, “What the Brothers Sang,” will bring you back into the traditional folk fold.
MP3: Dawn Mccarthy & Bonnie “Prince” Billy “Milk Train”