Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Performs Songs Of Kevin Loyne 7”, 1998

The first thing to note here is that “Loyne” is a typo. It’s meant to be “Coyne.” The record was produced and released in Portugal with three different covers. If we look closely at some of the artists Oldham has chosen to cover on the 7” single format we see a pattern emerging. Artists like David Allen Coe, Kevin Coyne and Larry Jon Wilson are hardly household names. The first and last of those were American country music ‘outlaws’ from the 70s, whereas Coyne was a sort of alternative British folk artist also prominent in the 70s. According to All Music Guide he released a lot of records that dealt with outsiders: men, women, and children arbitrarily shunted to the fringes of society, or worse, locked away and left alone. We can imagine then that Oldham chooses the more sincere of his cover songs carefully. Coyne was born in 1944 and died in 2004 at 50. One only has to watch a couple of youtube videos to see that Coyne is every bit the idiosyncratic performer Oldham can be. Both songs here first appeared side by side on Coyne’s 1979 album, Babble.

The Sun Shines Down On Me… after having a quick listen to the original versions, you learn that Oldham has stripped them right back to plaintive folky things, just a highly nuanced emotional vocal, which he manages to make sound deeply confessional, over top of diaphanously strummed guitar. The vocal performance is one of the most precious things I’ve heard come from Oldham’s mouth. He affects very slight tremulous wavers on his voice at just the right moments, which somehow make this sound like it’s come straight out of the seventies. He even lets, perhaps unconsciously, the faintest twinge of an African-Americanness creep into his voice, and it becomes increasingly difficult to remember that Oldham didn’t write the song. Lyrically it’s a song of redemption in which the narrator bewails his “crazy” past in which he “never did the right thing at all.” “I know I let my mind go lazy / I let my spirit fall.” But now, he seems to have got through those tough times, because, as we learn eight times throughout the song, “the lord let the sun shine down on me.” But despite walking like “I’ve just been born,” and being “surrounded by good spirits day and night time long,” his voice betrays the pain of that past throughout its fragile plea for the world (and ‘Lord’) to understand and accept his gratitude. In fact, it’s through Oldham’s mining of every word for its implicated suffering that makes the song’s religiosity actually tolerable. This is a true collector’s gem. And the B-side only gets better…

I Confess… having trawled my poor disinformed brain through several albums’ worth of Oldham’s lyrics now, I start to see that Oldham is hardly alone in the way that he writes songs; it becomes hard to believe he didn’t write these words himself; there’s a certain resemblance, not in the sentiment necessarily, but in the structure and shifting imagery. This song almost seems to ‘answer’ the previous one. Where the A-side was movingly sincere, the ‘confession’ here uses humour to undermine the need for absolution. “I confess that I killed the cat / The cat was speckled and fat / He was an angry cat / But I thought he was laughing,” opens the song with amusing paranoia. He then confesses to hitting his brother, trapping his mother and striking his sister until her nose bled. When he confesses all of this to the priest, and the priest tells him to “undress your soul and go away,” he takes the advice literally, strips, and like the cat, finds the priest laughing at him. The bruised humour soon gets dark. He recalls “a big black bird” who pounces on him, until, “I wasn’t breathing.” The chorus makes light of his confessions: “I did it / I said it” he repeats five times. But he sings of having cried a million tears, through all the wine, the beers and the years. He’s waiting til the time when he can feel optimistic, a bit like Jason Pierce of Spiritualized without all the bombast and chaotic romanticist drama. Oldham is appropriately less emotional than on “The Sun Shines Down On Me,” but still gives this his utmost to an authentic interpretation, effortlessly it would seem, though it’s only the best of artists who can conceal the effort behind their work. Once again, the vocal performance can only be described as ‘beautiful’ – he almost sounds like Aimee Mann here, but with a natural warmth in his voice that Mann sometimes lacks. Most of the song is that same faint guitar strum, until some kind of low woodwind-type thing enters and augments the tune with a twilight sadness. A whole album of songs like this would have been truly incredible.

Hokay, “I Confess” can be found on Little Lost Blues, the CD-only compilation of odds and sods and B-sides released in 2006. “The Sun Shines Down On Me,” is exclusive however, to this 7”.

The third BPB single for 1998 was, “One With The Birds/The Southside Of The World.”

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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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3 Responses to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Performs Songs Of Kevin Loyne 7”, 1998

  1. Anonymous says:

    Actually,there is a fourth cover,only 10 of which exist.It’s full colour and comes with an array of stickers etc.Always found it funny that they have another go somewhere on the packaging(can’t be bothered to dig it out now), wherein they refer to ‘songs by Kevin Coyle’.

  2. esgar says:

    in fact, there was 20 copies with the 4th cover. I know it, I released the record and draw the cover ;)

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