Bonnie “Prince” Billy | I Made a Place | (Drag City)
Four out of Five Stars
“You need to knock this one out of the park…”
Will Oldham sings in his signature warbly croon on “New Memory Box,” the opening song on his newest LP — ‘I Made A Place’. Oldham joins fellow Drag City luminaries Bill Callahan and the late David Berman in making his long awaited comeback in 2019. I Made A Place is his first LP of new originals since 2011’s ‘Wolfroy Goes To Town’ and with time comes expectation.
The track titles were revealed by Oldham on Drag City’s instagram accompanied by grotesque pictures of mutilated frogs and snails Oldham had compiled, much to the dismay of Drag’s unsuspecting followers. “When I have a problem / I know just what to do: / I go to bed and dream a while / something will come through,” Oldham writes under a picture of flattened, dried up toad.
Morbid as he may be, ‘I Made A Place’ is overall a less melancholy affair than Bonnie at his most Billy. Throughout the album the mood often shift between somber and joyous, sometimes within the same song. “The record is broken into sides, with the first side big and happy and dense and the second side open and questioning and happily sad,” Oldham writes in the press release.
Sonically the album is a bit more consistent, making great use of Jacob Duncan’s lush wind and horn arrangements. With these songs, Oldham manages to subtly innovate while still showcasing his seemingly bottomless well of western and country music influences.
One of the album’s highlights is the beautiful, stripped-down “Look Backward On Your Future Look Forward To Your Past,” a Prine-esque, tongue-in-cheek, acoustic tune about fate and acceptance, partially inspired by a picture of Oldham’s mother as a child. “This particular assemblage of molecules and memories someday soon may just run out of gas / so look backward to your future and look forward to your past.”
But the album’s crown jewel is the staggeringly beautiful “The Glow Part. 3,” a sequel to a series of songs by fellow songwriter Phil Elverum of The Microphones. “How worried are you when you don’t see the glow? / When it’s stuffed deep and awfully in a junk drawer below.” Duncan’s excellent wind arrangements are at their most radiant and whimsical here, and Oldham and backup singer Joan Shelley deliver some of their strongest harmonies: “Fill me up / pour me another / I can still see the light of day.”
‘I Made A Place’ is a definitive home run, a contemplative and gorgeous meditation on life, sadness and Western civilization.
It is tough to immediately decide where this record fits into Oldham’s dense, diverse and frankly daunting discography, but it’s reaffirming to see him still swinging for the fences.