Revisiting old songs and exploring new ways to sing them is something of a Will Oldham/Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy trademark. Three of his last four album releases have been covers of pre-existing songs. Summer in the Southeast is a live album, The Brave and the Bold is a collaboration with Tortoise, consisting of 10 cover songs, while in Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music, Oldham and friends perform updates of music he composed earlier in his career.
It was a delight to see another iteration of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy last night, this time performing with the folk band Harem Scarem. Hearing tunes I know quite well re-arranged to fit with Harem Scarem’s fantastic female harmonies became another reason to enjoy Oldham’s music. In performing with four other voices, a couple of violins, a flute, an accordion, a banjo, a guitar and an enthusiastic drummer, it is clear that everything has been carefully rehearsed. Nevertheless, he meanders around the beat (and indeed the notes) of each song, as if he is experimenting, trying out a new version. The sheen of uniqueness and immediacy remains.