Five Great Songs by Will Oldham (That Aren’t “I See A Darkness”)

Photo by Todd Brashear Photo by Todd Brashear

Palace Music: “New Partner” (Viva Last Blues, 1995)

Back before he abandoned his Palace for a princely pseudonym, Oldham rewrote the old country chestnut “Always on My Mind” — a hit for Elvis, Willie, and others — as “New Partner,” a surprisingly tender paean to romantic regret and redemption. He sings that chorus with a perverse mountain vibrato, which along with the staggering slide guitar (courtesy of Will’s brother Ned) lends the song a wobbly melancholy. It doesn’t sound like it was ever written down, but unearthed in a shallow grave somewhere out in America.

Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: “Death to Everyone” (I See a Darkness, 1999)

The title of this song sounds like Oldham at peak misanthropy, but that phrase is less a wish on the world around him and more a realization that our time on earth is sorely limited: “Death to everyone is gonna come,” he sings on the chorus, a potent moment of rural psychedelia. For Oldham, that inevitability is cause for celebration, a motivation to eat, drink, and be merry. “And it makes hosing much more fun,” he sings, although whatever that word means is a mystery. Carousing. Whoring. Wandering. Simply living one day to the next.

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