Album: Bonnie "Prince" Billy

Greatest Palace Music, Domino
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The Independent Culture

Part of the appeal of Will Oldham's early work under his Palace guises - as, variously, Palace Brothers, Palace Music and just plain Palace - was the ramshackle quality of the recordings, which gave them a patina of rootsy authenticity and encouraged the perception of him as some inbred hillbilly. Of course, the intimations of violence and incest in songs such as "West Palm Beach" didn't exactly help dissuade that supposition; but it's debatable whether these re-recorded "proper" country arrangements don't actually add an extra frisson of transgressive anxiety to the songs, as of a sociopath set free in the community. After all, lines such as "There is absence, there is lack, there are wolves hereabouts" don't really sound as if they should be riding atop sleek settings of fiddle, piano and pedal steel, so much as clawed from a badly tuned guitar. Which is not to say that their guns are all completely spiked: the creepy smears of violin on "Riding" and "More Brother Rides" add to the songs' haunted manner. By contrast, "Ohio River Boat Song" and "Agnes, Queen of Sorrow" seem fully at home in the conservative country settings. Indeed, with its honky-tonk hillbilly backing, "I Send My Love" has a genuine air of innocent rusticity.