This was the first release under the Palace name. The lyrics and melody to “Ohio River Boat Song” were lifted wholeheartedly from something called the “Loch Tay Boat Song” in that great custom of appropriating traditionals for your own end. Oldham changes a few words here and there plus two whole lines in the final verse but otherwise, we get the “Loch Tay Boat Song” set in Louisville, Kentucky on the banks of the “muddy Ohio.” The B-side is more atypical of the familiar Palace sound.
Ohio River Boat Song… opens with a chugging guitar, some electric notes and then a few thumbed arpeggios as Oldham’s voice lifts the song up, an impressive, yodel-lilting Scottish sound. What’s it about? A song of lost love. When the narrator leaves work, he jumps in his boat and goes floating across the Ohio dreaming of his beauteous Catarina, who is untrue. We get some slippery slide guitar between verses. Like all lovesick men, the singer can’t let Catarina go, but would rather wait to be dumped. I guess most of us have been there. ie. been smitten by someone to the point where we let ourselves be blinded to the non-reciprocality of said smittenness. In “Ohio River Boat Song,” the singer knows Catarina is untrue but he admits that his “heart’s a boat in tow.” Her hair has more beauty than all the tresses “from Smoketown to Oldham county,” the former a suburb of Louisville, and the latter a real county in Kentucky. The best two lines may in fact come from Oldham’s pen: “And the screeching bluejays seem / To form her name when screaming.” This one exercise of creative license turns the song into something far more alarming than the somber original. In fact, with each few lines, the song slowly builds into something increasingly momentous, so that by the time we reach those screeching bluejays, the music, volume and voice all come together in gloriously unvictorious sorrow, as we learn finally that she let him go the night before, and his heart is now full of woe. Pretty standard stuff, I suppose. But Oldham’s version is especially entertaining for the way he applies his so-ironic-it’s-earnest voice to the lyrics, and utterly compels your attention for the duration of the song. Slow, sad strummed fade out. Makes for a great in-the-car singalong.
Drinking Woman… seems less structured than the A-Side, and it’s slower, with pauses between phrases stretched longer than you’d expect, such that you’re constantly listening for what’s next with slightly frustrated anticipation. It’s all about a woman who does nothing but drinks, dances and winks and thinks about drinking, sleep, and then sinks into bed and winks. Oh, “and she loves to lean and she breathes and bleeds … alcohol.” That last word is stretched out on the syllable “hol” for several bars and is then taken up by the band for another bar or two. The stilted momentum of the lyric probably suggests inebriation. The song has no real verb though—it’s purely descriptive, the opening phrase—“a woman who drinks” —and the rest of the song expands on that relative clause without providing any main action. Thus, we have no way of extracting meaning. This gives it a Sesame Street quality—“hey kids look at how we put some funny words together” just for the fuck of it. The guitar goes all lap-steel and flamenco at the end, which is a nice touch. Oldham’s voice is sort of feeble and sickly in places, which is in keeping with the aesthetic of sullen restraint we hear in so much Palace material. His voice can be a pusillanimous little thing but after hearing the song a few times, it sort of catches on your better nature, and you find yourself wailing along. Come on everybody, one two three …A woman who DRINKS! … and later … al-co-hoooo—ooooo—ooool.
“Ohio River Boat Song” appears in the exact same form on Lost Blues And Other Songs, a re-recorded version on Sings Greatest Palace Music, and a live version on the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy album, Funtown Comedown. “Drinking Woman” appears as it is here, on Guarapero: Lost Blues 2.
The next 7″ single, “Come In/Trudy Dies” was also released in 1993.