Will Oldham, Patience b/w Take However Long You Want 7″, 1997

This 7” signals yet another aesthetic change from the Palace sound, which itself may be bedrocked in the lo-fi country death ballad, but above which, variations on a theme and inconsistency have kept things interesting. Days In The Wake was the first time we heard Oldham alone with his acoustic guitar. He’s back in that mode, albeit more subdued and serious here, quieter, the voice more even, softer, the ‘Prince’ beginning to unfurl from his chrysalis, although he’s still very much cocooned in a private moment on these two impressively hushed songs. Faint, barely-there acoustic guitar informs a vocal style that sounds like a shy fellow singing in his bedroom fearful his flatmates might hear.

Patience… a gentle acoustic strum underscores the softest singing we’ve heard from Oldham yet. It seem to consist of only one chord for the bulk of the song, except the chorus where he manages to bend his fingers into one or two other figures for a passing moment. And lyrically it consists of a list of things that Oldham wasn’t born as. eg. “I wasn’t born a fisherman / And I wasn’t born a schoolgirl … a tree of leaves … Indian … Arabian … a man with a dream to just let it falter.” Now normally in a song like this, you’d get to the point where the singer would tell us what he was born as and that would be the payoff, but Oldham never reaches that point. Instead, in the chorus, he tells us, “I will align myself with nothing / And I will enjoin my heart with no one’s / Cause I was untried / When I was applied the light of birth.” It’s a kind of refusal to be known, a rejection of language’s tendency to categorize and pigeonhole, as if it’s easier to say what one is not, never what one is. This accords with a few interviews I’ve seen from the 1995/6 period where Oldham deflected any interviewer’s attempt to get to know him or anything about his songs. There are a couple of more telling lines in this song: “I wasn’t born o to tell the truth,” and “I wasn’t born a thing to be scorned / A thing to be ignored.” The content of these lines do contrast however against the evanescent quality of the music and singing. It’s short too, one of those blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of songs. Two thirds of the way through, the song changes tack when he hits the word “truth” in the line quoted above. “Truth” leads to the rhyme in the next line: “I was not born o to sleep with Ruth.” This fictional Ruth is far away he tells us, and while he has “no heart for weeks between coupling” and “could bide [his] time with girls that live in town” he wouldn’t want “to pass the night with one not my true love.” Hence, the title of the song, ‘patience.’ But the sudden twist in the lyric based on that one rhyme makes it seem like Oldham dithering, not really sure what this song is even trying to do. Given that it has the slightest of tunes and is so faint that you feel like you’re eavesdropping on someone’s private moment, the song itself feels like a thing not fully born, barely ready for public consumption. The most interesting thing here is hearing Oldham managing to hit the high notes without his voice breaking. It’s like he’s trying out a new way of singing, of discovering that close mic’ed intimacy in his voice that would come to inform much of his Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy material.

Take However Long You Want… is probably the better of the two songs here. He pushes his voice into much higher registers, soft, delicate, hitting all the notes beautifully. The tune is stronger too, although it’s still just light acoustic strumming and voice. Even the song’s title seems to be a continuation of the ‘patience’ theme. The first line, “take however long you want,” is sung in one of the highest registers he’s used to date. Thereafter it’s anyone’s guess which way to read the lyrics—“You can wait here forever / By the trees alone”—a few words about someone leaving, or waiting to leave, as per many of Oldham’s earlier songs (see “Werner’s Last Blues To Blokbuster” and “Agnes, Queen Of Sorrow” on Hope for example). But “I won’t be sorry when you’re gone,” reminds the singing narrator. While this person is waiting, he won’t be hanging around except until the point “when you’re about to go away” and then, “I will be hanging out with you.” Once more for clarity and summary: “I will be here / When you need to leave / And I won’t be sorry when you go.” A parting song that refuses to acknowledge sentiment. The music is very simple, with a few slight shifts in the middle before returning to the slow two chord strum of the lyric. But it’s so light and airy and short that it fails to register in any powerful way, which is to say, it’s not greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Both “Patience” and “Take However Long You Want” are available on Guarapero: Lost Blues 2. It’s a pity “Patience” doesn’t turn up elsewhere because it might have been interesting to hear a later version. “Take However Long You Want” is included on the live LP, Summer In The Southeast released in 2005.

Next, Oldham would release a cover of a David Allen Coe song, “In My Mind” on a split 7″ with a variation of his Palace band called Rising Shotgun.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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