Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Mariee Sioux, Bonnie & Mariee 2 x 7″, 2012

bonnie & mariee frontThe title of this double 7″ might be lost on anyone born in the last 20 years, but it refers jokingly to “Donny & Marie,” that brother/sister pair of Osmonds who sang soppy love songs to God in the 70s. God themes up on the first song here too. Mariee Sioux, born in 1985, is Oldham’s junior by 15 years. Based on her song “Loveskulls” that appears here, I’d like to hear more of her work, though at time of writing, I’m unfamiliar with her recordings. bonnie & mariee label

Not Mocked… seems to be yer standard religo-guilt song, as it relates to sexcapades, though here a little more explicit and with no small amount of faux-posturing from the song’s two narrators. It opens with lovely serious piano notes and a whirring steel guitar, quickly drifting into country ballad fare. Oldham sings the first verse with backing from Sioux, a sound we’ve gotten pretty used to by now. The title and chorus derive from the same part of the Bible that Lou Reed’s “you’re gonna reap just what you sow” line comes from. In this case, according to Galations 6, verse 7, if you sow to the flesh, you reap corruption; sow to the spirit and you gain everlasting life. The narrators of “Not Mocked” know this and have to keep reminding themselves in the chorus, “Be thou not deceived / God is not mocked / Whatsoever a man sows / That he will reap.” The chorus is very pretty by the way, with both voices swooning together. So the Oldham narrator has “taken the maid to the laundry room / To have a little master fun,” while Sioux’s has “touched [her]self a hundred times.” Where Oldham’s narrator lies in bed beside his wife fearing “the Jesus man” will see what he’s done, Sioux’s narrator has a guilty child inside her fearing she’s been seen by Mary and mom. Thing is, I’m not buying it—the guilt, and if it comes across as fake, then it’s a joke. Are there actually people in the world who suffer such guilt? I suppose there are, but even then, it’s a culturally constructed thing, more’s the pity. As a couple, singing together, Sioux and a croaky Oldham keep a child outside in the yard “not born to us by birth,” who “washes with the garden hose / And dines on worms and earth.” Once again, the devil is in on it. And when Jesus, Mary, Mom or the dev sees what you’ve been up to, they’ll see “the circle close before I die.” Whatever that means … punishment? There’s a certain glee apparent though, as always with Oldham, in a good dose of guilty partaking in the flesh, and one suspects that biblical law is the thing actually being mocked here. The only thing this song reaps is my disinterest and disbelief. bonnie & mariee label

Bird Child… is a cover of an Anomoanon song, credited to Oldham’s brother Ned Oldham and Aram Stith on their 2004 album, Joji. The song rocks in a traditional vein though one hears a certain math-punk aesthetic in the grungy guitar and shoutiness, something about Oldham’s vocal makes this sound very similar to the material on that awful The Brave And The Bold album he did with Tortoise. Here the band plays it completely straight, and Oldham sings it exactly as per the original. The theme is once again sex, “rock and roll” though with all the subtlety of a Cars song. The title comes from the first line, “They gonna treat you like a bird child / Your eyes closed and your mouth wide,” suggesting that you’re being fed worms like the child in “Not Mocked.” There’s a few disconnected images—white clouds, rocket glow and rain, but what it all boils down to is plain unadulterated desire: “I wanna bring you down and make you come tonight.” Catching all the lyrics is difficult, so I haven’t got the complete picture, but the verses only comprise the first half of the song. From there it’s a jubilantly shouted “rock and roll” to a tiresomely thrashed chord and stop-start beat and they lose me – until a lovely woozy violin-infused midsection starts up and the guitar and momentum drift into some altogether different terrain for a good minute or two before humming down, and Oldham’s “rock and roll” motif repeats; more downward thrusts on distorted guitar. The song’s grown on me since I began listening, but the tail end gets boring quickly. bonnie & mariee label

Loveskulls… is the true gem of this double 7”, a Mariee Sioux song whose literate flurry of words and images reminds me of (my admittedly limited experience of listening to) Joanna Newsom. We get acoustic guitar arpeggio as the images begin piling up from the get-go: “There’s a flowering tongue in this death / A rose left in every step / And the steps are like stepping off of a pyramid of loveskulls.” So it’s a rather dramatic break-up song for one’s whose accustomed to leaving a trail of broken hearts behind her? Sioux’s voice rises, beautifully on the next striking image: “When I go to bed / A mountain range has taken my place / Your head upon it, a sloping grace / And when the avalanche slips off your face / Let it be (guilt?)” The song stops for a moment of twinkly starry-eyed distraction and then the drums break out. Several of the words are sung too softly to catch clearly. We get images of an ambulance, and the dropping of persimmons, mandarins, oranges, and it seems something dramatic and fatal has happened, though clouded here in metaphor. There’s several distinct sections to the song, which by the way, is quite magnificent, my favourite being a heightened mid-section that goes, “Come all the waters, come cougar daughters / Cougars cougars, come, all the water,” which recalls P. J. Harvey’s song “Down By The Water.” She plays on these words for a couple more lines, with lovely drama and melody. Oldham merely plays a quiet background role in this song. Following the falling orange-coloured things, Sioux softens her voice into one of compassionate understanding and the song’s impact is fully realized: “And I knew, I knew, I knew / And I knew something had to give.” We get sprinklers and showers and five similes for something soft, and what it all amounts to is, “I cannot give birth to an odd-legged foal all made of earth.” Make of that what you will, but it’s highly suggestive stuff and the emotion runs strong. Oldham’s voice seems superfluous to the song, though there is a warm very brief male choir-echo during the ‘soft’ section which is a lovely effect. Great song.

bonnie & mariee labelMad Mad Me… is a cover, played on piano, originally written by Wendy Waldman and appearing on her 1974 album Gypsy Symphony, and here performed as a duet between Sioux and Oldham. The piano melody opens with a portentous descending theme, until a rollicking programmed beat leads the song to its first verse. It’s a mostly straightforward declaration of love between two people, who obviously have their fair share of problems – “How many kinds of tribulation / Must a friend endure?” – but despite said problems, “oh baby, how I love you / Mad as I think you are / Guess you think I’m crazy too / But mad mad me I love you.” And that’s pretty much the sum of it. There’s a verse about conversations that pops up twice, in which “the words … seem to pass us by,” and the eyes are where it’s at; that madness, that craziness, lies there in the eyes, eyes aflame, jumping and burning. Thanks Wendy Waldman for that insight. It’s crazy to be in love, but it’s stark raving mad to love someone as painful as you. Musically the song has appeal with a driving jazzy piano groove, making short stops for vocal parts, which are mixed up and cut and joined together. It sounds like the 1970s and it’s nice and a worthy cover because until now I’d never heard of Wendy Waldman, although I’m not about to rush out and buy her album. bonnie & mariee back

So, um, I dunno – seems a touch of cynicism has crept into my commentary for this release which is a result of tedious lyrics to three of the songs. The best song by far is the trippy Sioux-penned “Loveskulls” whereas the others come across a little too much like duet-by-numbers. Have I wearied of this sound? No, but “Not Mocked” holds little interest for me, and “Bird Child” is a little plain in places. The final track is lyrically dull, but a nice song nonetheless.

bonnie & mariee gatefold inner

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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