Young Widows / Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Poor Shelter split 7″, 2009

poor shelter frontThis was released by Temporary Residence in 2009 as the first in a series of four ‘split’ seven inch singles all featuring Young Widows on the A-side. Who they? A noise trio from Louisville, home also to the subject of this project, Will Oldham. The artwork only looks weird because it’s missing its three companions: when combined the four sleeves form a larger, creepy image. Oldham takes up the B-side with something quite different to many of the songs he’d been releasing around this time. It’s good to hear the old weird Oldham again.

poor shelter labelKing Of The Backburners… seems to be a song of self-loathing as the song’s narrator-singer, Evan Patterson tells us, “I crown myself as a king of fools / From the birthplace of the dead.” He sings of the lazy life, being “king of the backburners,” and “the kind who flakes.” If something’s important to this chap, he’ll just let it slide right on through. He’s king of procrastinators everywhere, king of putting things off, putting things on hold. I know how that feels, but hey, I’m not the king of backburners, this song’s narrator is. Why’s he telling us this? That’s where the song fails in my opinion. There’s no narrative here, there’s no allusions to any reason for the song’s existence. Oldham would have given us a few words, just a few, but enough to let us form a weird picture. A hard drumbeat, heavy treated guitar sound opens the song with several Minutemen-like phrases, which get repeated over and over. Instead of filling up the gaps between bass and drums with rhythm and thrash, the music remains minimal, while Patterson speak-sings his lyrics between these gaps. It’s like a grungier Minutemen sans the virtuosity. There’s quite a neat echo effect after the words are over, and the guitars finally join to fill up all the space with grunge and some impressively noisy guitar noodling. It’s hard, thumping music, the kind you wouldn’t want to listen to it with a headache. It’s all tight mechanical rhythm, small on melody. Not my kind of music particularly, but I’d probably enjoy them live.

poor shelter labelPoor Shelter… is a strange little poem, the main refrain of which goes thus: “If I live in a poor shelter / I will give something back.” Oldham’s double-tracked his vocal, something we haven’t heard in a long time, unless that’s somebody else singing with him, but there’s no one else credited on the sleeve, and the song was produced by ‘Tusitala,’ Oldham’s alter-producer-ego. This is vastly superior to the A-side. It’s quite an odd beast, like, I mean Palace-era odd. There’s spoken word parts, ridiculous background falsetto doo-dooing, lah-de-dahing, and only an acoustic guitar and occasional bass. He doesn’t just double-track his voice—it becomes several Oldhams, like four or five of them, a kind of Bon Iver-type thing. The mood is harrowed, bleak. “Child will know I’m a small thing / In a thick wind blowing back.” For the first time in ages, I have to admit defeat; Oldham has me completely stumped with these lyrics. Something about souls, the wind, a ‘pack’ (of wolves?) and looking back. Make of that what you will, but the brilliantly eccentric arrangement rules. It dies away before bursting back into the main refrain, a pack of wailing Bonnie Billies, as if he’d lived in a forest all his life.

poor shelter backSo this was a pleasant surprise. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve said it before, but occasionally we hear these other experimental sides of Oldham you kind of wish would arise therefore and produce a whole album along these lines, instead of the easy listening country-pop vibe he’s been dishing up over the past few years. Next 7” would be “Stay” also released in 2009, containing covers of Susanna songs, the artist he’d recorded duets with on the “Forever And Ever” seven inch.

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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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