The Wonder Show of the World (Domino, 2010)
One of the joys of Will Oldham’s extensive back catelogue is the endless reinvention and reinterpretation he puts his songs and motifs through, often with a varied cast of collaborators. It shows their robustness and gives a timeless feel to the work of a distinct, unique individual, emersing them in the canon of American folk music.
Every so often a Bonnie Prince release is apended with an ampersand, making for some of his most intriguing albums. 2005’s Superwolf was a collaboration with Matt Sweeney, whose minimal, taut guitar gave Oldham’s words room to breath, or rather sigh, creating one of the most atmospheric records of the last decade.
The Cairo Gang pull off a similar trick on this year’s The Wonder Show of The World. The duo of Emmett Kelly and Shahzad Ismaily, who both played on Lie Down In The Light and Beware, strip things back from the busy compositions of those records to allow Oldham’s inimitable wordplay to come to the fore. Thematically, Oldham is on the same page, detailing the desire for domestic bliss and the turbulence of those most precious relationships that threatens it. After twenty records or more, it’s well established that he’s a master of juxtaposing pain and humour. ‘Troublesome Houses’ features one of Oldham’s finest vocal performances and is the most ornate song here, detailing his wife’s anger at the wayward nature she can taste on his mouth, while on ‘The Sounds Are Always Begging’, a partner chops up their bed, but he’s too turned on to stop her.
Picking highlights here is a little like pulling strands from a sweater, but ‘Go Folks, Go’ stands out a little for its minimalism, evoking a casual, congenial moment between friends: “I got gal and I got friends, like I never thought I’d do”. I imagine whisky, laughter and the late day sun while Oldham and his cohorts revel in the joy of our earthiest pleasures.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy & The Cairo Gang play St. John The Baptist Church, Coventry on 2 August.
Video: ‘With Cornstalks or Among Them’/ ‘The Sounds Are Always Begging’ Live at Monster Island Basement, Brooklyn