Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Cold & Wet 12″, 2006

This is the second single from The Letting Go album. Here we’ve got one album track plus two live songs with what seems to be the same band Oldham toured with for the Summer In The Southeast LP. The lead off single is quite unlike anything else on The Letting Go and doesn’t seem to include Dawn McCarthy’s influence. The live tracks include the opening number from Master And Everyone and a Kenny Rogers cover which works well in Oldham’s hands. The record is one sided.

Cold And Wet… is played on bluesy guitar, little tricky slidy bits, and a really pretty Oldham vocal, a very catchy tune, like a strange country lullaby. The song is deeply ambiguous—what exactly Oldham is singing about I have no idea—there are no explicit external referents in the song, but rather a simple and strange tale about using water to put out a fire, although Oldham never speaks of fire, but merely “warmth.” There may be something slyly lascivious in this line though: “When things become too warm make them a little wet.” The advice Oldham gives is that “water may stop warmth” such that one can “douse them with a mouthful” and “cause the warm to drown.” Once you have done this by introducing “to every soul a drink made of tears” and flooded the streets and wet everything, shoes included, then “we no longer fear the voices of the brave or bold,” sings Oldham, pausing, allowing his voice to linger on, before picking up the rhythm again. The frustrating thing about these odd lyrics is that Oldham sings them like it’s the most matter of fact thing in the world, a simple song pointing out a simple truth, and I suppose he does: water, being a great conductor of electrons, kills warmth. How about that? Oldham finishes the song thus: “Well, future is diminished by what today we did / We wetted warmth and killed it and in the water hid.” Nice coinage with “wetted.” It sounds so simple and is so different to everything else on The Letting Go. The vocal is up front in the mix, the guitar melody is quite a complex little thing, blues progression. Love this song, despite having no idea what it’s about.

The Way… is the opening track from Master And Everyone, here a live version. “We can rate Pink on how she sings at the end of the song,” says Oldham into his microphone before the song starts up. Despite being live, it’s an acoustic version, slow, spare instrumentation, a little loose in the dynamic range, Oldham in fine voice, though he seems to have dubbed on an extra vocal track of his own voice singing in from the background. The song is called “The Way” because the narrator wants his partner to love him “the way I love you.” What ‘way’ is this exactly? From what I can tell, it’s a love without commitment: “I can’t marry you, you know,” and then suggests to her, “You can find another man,” but for now, if you “let your unloved parts get loved / Then I will be your man.” These lines are delivered with some neat country-vocal flourishes and warbles. The opening lines hint at this coldness: “Well the winter it comes / With snow.” Nasty Pink joins for the second chorus. Like Dylan, though not quite as radically, Oldham generally changes his songs when performing them live, mainly in the way he sings them, different rhythms, finding different emphases. It can’t be a big audience—at the end we hear what sounds like ten people applauding, and something about the intimacy of the sound suggests a very small venue. Like Summer In The Southeast though, the recording is still marred slightly by subtle and muffled shifts in volume which can ruin the enjoyment.

Buried Treasure… is the Kenny Rogers ‘classic,’ here a live rendition, though much heavier than “The Way,” with a graunchy rhythm, electric guitars, spikes and shards, but as soon as Oldham records with a full electric band, for some reason the recording dynamic just turns weak. This isn’t too bad, but I find it flat in places, instruments that should be spaced apart are blurred together. The chorus makes up for that because it works as an anthemic singalong: “We don’t need no buried treasure / No buried treasure we don’t need it / We don’t stand on ceremony / But life is phony in spite of it / You can never be all you wanna be / When you’re searching for gold / We don’t need no buried treasure / I’ve still got you / I’ve still got you in my soul.” Those words “I’ve still got you” get sung three times, each time a different singer in the band repeating it in a higher pitch. The second time they sing it, we get some tremendous anthemic singing in the background, followed by heavy grunge riffs. The song is all about um…being in love with someone that you couldn’t leave even if you wanted to despite struggling with commitment (echoes of “The Way” here). It seems from the chorus that sometimes you gotta make do with less than perfect, because if you search for perfect you’ll never find it and you’ll lose what you’ve got. ie. The classic “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” kind of message, I think. For example the opening line goes, “Now if the aim in your life is to settle me down…” and you think you’re about to hear a disputative rejoinder but instead he kowtows: “I couldn’t change that point of view,” but then adds, “I got a lady in red at the back of my head / But the woman in white is you,” which suggests that even though he sings to his wife (the woman in white) he still wants the “lady in red.” And later he admits, “I can see me making you cry, saying goodbye / But I could never let you go.” And thus in light of the general drift and theme of Oldham’s lyrics, we can see how a song like this would fit into his scheme of things—the ‘wolf’ always on the prowl/howl. The Oldham band add a brief crescendo into loud wailing guitars at the end before ending the song without repeating the chorus as many times as Rogers does on the original. It’s enjoyable mainly for the catchy melody and Oldham’s singing.

As a 12″ single, this doesn’t fall into the category of a ‘must own.’ It’s really only worth listening to for the Kenny Rogers cover. The third single from The Letting Go would be released in 2007, the Lay & Love 12″ EP with two bonus Dylan covers.

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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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