Bonnie 'Master and Everyone'

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Bonnie "Prince" Billy, a.k.a. Will Oldham, is no ordinary bard. His writing, which can call to mind 19th-century American poets like Walt Whitman, has won him a cult of fans that include Marianne Faithfull, Björk, and Beck. Master's painfully fragile intensity is disconcerting and challenging, yet its purity and tenderness is soothing all the same. Dark, intimate, and sparsely arranged, it's a loose, meditative concept record that explores issues of gender, self, and love. Here Oldham trades in his familiar warble for a hushed, clear high tenor and a rock band for his acoustic guitar; ever-so-soft strings and keyboards warm up the arrangements while he is backed by Marty Slayton's sweet, feminine harmonies. Lyrically less dense than previous releases, Master does retain Oldham's typically quaint phrasings, as in "Ain't You Wealthy, Ain't You Wise?" and "Joy and Jubilee." With a few listens, these 10 oddly gentle songs will endear themselves, and perhaps prove Master to be Oldham's best and most personal work to date.

1. The Way
2. Ain't You Wealthy, Ain't You Wise?
3. Master and Everyone
4. Wolf Among Wolves
5. Joy and Jubilee
6. Maundering
7. Lesson's from What's Poor
8. Even If Love
9. Three Questions
10. Hard Life