- A darkness: Bonnie "Prince" Billy
Will Oldham's tendency to cycle through names and musical cohorts has made for surprises both profound (his excellent collaborative albums) and puzzling (re-recording his earlier catalog highlights with a band of Nashville pros). After spending most of the 1990s recording under his own name and various guises -- Palace Songs, Palace Brothers, etc. -- the singer-songwriter picked up the moniker Bonnie "Prince" Billy at the end of the decade, and has issued most of his catalog under it since.
Starting with 1999's acclaimed I See a Darkness, Oldham's had a remarkably prolific and varied decade -- scads of releases, and several fruitful collaborative efforts. In 2005, he teamed up with Chavez and Zwan guitar hero Matt Sweeney for the excellent Superwolf, which included the song "Beast for Thee" (and its indelible lyrics, "Astride my horny horn / You'll be in glory born / And I will be, a beast for thee").
One of his most surprising collaborations was 2006's The Brave and The Bold, with post-rock standard-bearers Tortoise. The all-covers album explored songs from Devo to Elton John, Lungfish to Richard Thompson, even a surreal cover of "Poncho," by Pittsburgh's Dave Hanner of Corbin/Hanner. The tour de force was their haunting reinterpretation of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road," exposing that song's dark heart, and forever changing how you hear that song. Some of Oldham's more "standard" releases haven't fared as well -- for example, last year's Beware met with mixed reviews -- but then Bonnie "Prince" Billy's warble is something of an acquired taste at the best of times.
His new album, The Wonder Show of the World, finds Oldham billed alongside the Cairo Gang, featuring his longtime guitarist Emmett Kelly. This spare batch of songs favors intertwined acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies with ruffles of light percussion, on songs like the deceptively sunny "Troublesome Houses" and "That's What Our Love Is." Oldham still has a way with the, er, "beastly" lyrics, as in "The Sounds Are Always Begging": "My wife turned crazy on me one day / started chopping up the bed / She looked past me with gaping eyes / Left me too hard to be scared."
Bonnie "Prince" Billy & The Cairo Gang visit the Andy Warhol Museum this Sat., Aug. 21 for two performances. (As of press time, the shows are sold out.)
Bonnie "Prince" Billy & The Cairo Gang. 8 and 10 p.m. Sat., Aug. 21. The Andy Warhol Museum, 117 Sandusky St., North Side. $18 (sold out). 412-237-8300 or www.warhol.org