Will Oldham’s catalog is so vast, it takes 15 seconds to scroll through his online discography. It’s amazing, then, that every one of his albums—from his days leading Palace to his current period as Bonnie “Prince” Billy—maintains a unique musical identity so as to remain individually memorable.
Latest effort Lie Down in the Light carries on the tradition, asserting its personality as the singer-songwriter’s most countrified disc yet (not counting 2004’s Sings Greatest Palace Music, a Nashvillian reworking of early faves). It’s a subtle, laid-back twang, but it’s there throughout, arriving via fiddle, banjo, pedal-steel guitar, organ, clarinet (?!) and, above all, the old-world voice of Ashley Webber, who proves a better singing partner for Oldham on standout tracks “You Remind Me of Something (The Glory Goes)” and “So Everyone” than the more heralded Dawn McCarthy did on 2006’s The Letting Go.
Proclaiming “I know my way around the world,” Oldham synopsizes the LP’s wandering-spirit lyrical approach at the start of “So Everyone.” But though he surely sounded road-weary at birth, lines like “I know that missing you has just begun, there’s years to come” (from “Missing One”) now arrive with the force of 37 years of experience and emotion behind them.
Lie Down feels graceful, like Master and Everyone. And powerful, like I See a Darkness. And playful, like Viva Last Blues. And yet, it’s different enough from any of its predecessors to make the inevitably short wait for Oldham’s next release feel interminable.
The bottom line: ****