Tuesday, 25 October 2005

Album Review: Summer In The Southeast

You’ll be hard pressed to find a review about Will Oldham that doesn’t contain the word ‘enigmatic’. Certainly, Oldham has a reputation for being grumpy and uncooperative. However, his talent is never in doubt, something reinforced by the release by Drag City of Oldham’s first live album.

Whether working as Palace, his own name, or Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Oldham’s albums are never particularly embellished with production trickery, but Summer In The Southeast allows an even greater focus on the songs themselves.

Master and Everyone erupts in a way it didn’t when housed on the 2003 album of the same name, while the classic Appalachian sound of Nomadic Revery is enriched by the live recording and the fragility of fatalistic anthem, I See A Darkness, means it almost disappears altogether until its emotional crescendo. And there are yet more changes to mainstays of Oldham’s catalogue, I Send My Love To You gets a full boom-click-boom country makeover. May It Always Be is noisily transformed from the version on 2002’s Ease Down The Road album, while the Celtic folk of Madeleine Mary gets a bluesy makeover.

O Let It Be from 1997’s Joya is the album’s one true rock song. But it is the repertoire of love songs that has Oldham at his most tender; the barely-there melody of Beast For Thee is one of the set’s standout moments.

Bar some irritating whooping from the typically excitable US audience, of which I dare say Oldham wouldn’t have approved, this is an enjoyable listen from beginning to end.

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