There are–literally–thousands of tribute albums and collections of songs reimagined by others, with several dozen more released each year. Folk music is music of tradition–passing down songs from one performer to the next. Performing and recording the songs of other writers (both known and unknown) is a way of honoring the author by passing their work on to others in a new way.
But have you ever heard of someone recording a tribute album…to themselves?
One of folk music’s more “unusual” performers, Will Oldham, has done just that. Throughout his career, he’s changed his performing name at least four times. Currently, he calls himself Bonnie “Prince” Billy. Many refer to Oldham/Billy as an Appalachian version of Nick Drake: understated, haunting, and powerfully subtle. His 2003 album Master and Everyone, was one of the most original singer/songwriter albums of the year.
For his current release, Bonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music, Oldham/Billy has gathered together a huge group of Nashville players (38 to be exact) to re-record some of his early ’90s work with the group Palace (though Palace only had one member–Oldham).
He is an amazing songwriter, and an arranger with an unusual gift of making beauty appear out of chaotic quietness. As I write this, I realize how hard it is to describe. Jim’s playing some cuts from Master and Everyone. Listen for Mr. Billy or take a listen on your own.