Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
In his last outing as Bonnie 'Prince Billy (minus a couple EPs), Will Oldham created an absolute masterpiece in I See A Darkness. There was a couple month period that I went through in which things weren't too happy with me and I swear that the release was nearly a constant companion. It was like the time in junior high when you first discovered the Smiths and sang along with all the songs and drug around a black cloud over your head. Although it wasn't the best of times for me, I got by it, and I still occassionally pull the disc out and it still hits pretty hard, even though I'm not in the same state of mind.
Although there are a couple songs that have a slightly haunting nature, Ease On Down The Road is a completely different album than that of I See A Darkness. It's probably a good thing, as if any musical artist kept up (or down rather) the kind of music on that release for a regular basis, I'd be worried about their frame of mind. Once again, Oldham has a bunch of friends join in with him on the release, playing different instruments and a singing along, but this time it's more like 12 tracks of porch-sittin' music (the back cover picture of Oldham balancing on a stool and crooning while someone plays guitar in the shadows sums things up pretty well) with a bunch of friends. It's more like Viva Last Blues! by Palace Music, and as you'd probably expect, it's also something that you'll find yourself singing along with.
The album actually opens up with a pretty optimistic love song entitled "May It Always Be." Backed with nice guitar/bass/drum/piano instrumentation, the song is also highlighted by some female backup vocals and other random percussion. Following things up right after that is probably the most haunting track on the entire disc in "Careless Love." The minimal track features only the stark vocals of Oldham backed by some subtle organ, and as the shortest track on the disc still manages to pack more emotion than some of the other longer ones.
Oldham still fortunately is very blatant with sexual references at times, and isn't afraid of mentioning going down on his lover (or his lover going down on him) in the very pretty "A King At Night." On the rolicking album closer, "Rich Wife Full Of Happiness" (that starts out with a wacky synth blast), he drops a line in the middle of the song that will make you chuckle, especially given the down-home plucky nature of the track. All that said, there is still a line of darkness that runs through many of the tracks on the album. Although "Just To See My Holly Home" sounds like the most boppy track on the release, it's probably one of the most gleefully dark tracks I've heard since Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds dropped "The Curse Of Milhaven" on their Murder Ballads release.
It's still not a super-goofy and rolicking affair (like the recent Rian Murphy/Will Oldham collaboration All Most Heaven EPor anything like that, but it's on a completely different level than I See A Darkness. Although the instrumentation and singing is solid, it's just not quite of an interesting release. Overall, there are less dynamics to the tracks which makes for a slightly less engaging release, but for a smoother flowing one. The tone of the album ranges from hope and redemption to love and loss (and wackier), and it's yet another very solid disc for Oldham and the gang.