Released in concord with Record Store Day 2015, this 7” sees Oldham recording a song written by Tonnie “broeder” Dieleman on one side, Tonnie being Dieleman’s first name, and “broeder” meaning “brother.” Meanwhile Brah Dieleman performs a Bonnie Prince Billy Song, “Three Questions” in Dutch on the flip side. The lyric insert states that Oldham himself had a hand in translating the Dieleman song into English. These are both minimal and folky, just acoustic guitar on the Oldham side, and guitar and piano on the Dieleman. The record is put out by Snowstar Records, an indie label based in the Netherlands. It’s worth checking out their other releases. I heard several titles I liked from browsing their site.
Gloria… is the title track from Broeder Dieleman’s 2014 album by the same name, Gloria. The original is a watery folky number with banjo and piano. It has a mournful/hopeful quality as cast by Dieleman’s rough-edged baritone. Lyrically, the song is a statement of intent, as a troubadour, or musician, and has something in common with certain Oldham lyrics, about going on down the road “with nothing in my pockets” but glory. Waste not, want not, just “walking quietly / In glory.” It seems the singer then addresses “Gloria” telling her she “could go anytime / Through that door / And down the street” too. Bucolic imagery creates a pastoral landscape of “beargrass / And the greenway” while “crows” wait in glory. Like the narrator of the Mekons song “Horses” which Oldham covered back in 1994, these troubadours like to live with one foot in nature, “sleep[ing] at night / With the windows open.” Oldham’s guitar playing maintains the watery pebbly quality of the original, while his voice, as ever able to slide between its underlying deeper tones, a throaty ragged edge and a lush ethereal end-tone, defines his singing here, enabling him to approach themes of the sacred and divine in nature. A second vocalist by the name of Joan Shelley joins Oldham with her high, occasionally sharp soprano at various phrases, bringing into view the feminine partner implicit in the lyrics. The song is measured and contemplative, melancholy and ecstatic at the same time. That’s the sound of sunlight coming through trees and lighting the side of a church on the sleeve.
Drie Vragen… translates as “Three Questions”, an Oldham song originally appearing on 2003’s Master And Everyone album. Here it’s all sung in Dutch, but to paraphrase briefly, the song plays out as some kind of test of love, the three questions each proposing a scenario: Will his lover still love him when no one else does?; will she split some al-homdillillilie with him when the food’s all gone?; and will she wear a rock around her neck, one that he’s just picked up – will she wear it as some kind of anchoring of love? We hear guitar and piano, and backup harmonies from Janine Van Osta. What I don’t hear much of is the original melody, unless I’m deaf. Put it this way – if I’d overheard this song somewhere it’s unlikely I’d recognize it as Oldham’s “Three Questions.” Changing lyrics to another language tends to do that though, changes the rhythmic vocal melody a little, though I’d have thought the musical cadences would remain the same. The parallel tones of voices, piano and guitar, plus Euro accent gives this an old-worldly folk feel and it’s nice enough, not wholly dissimilar in mood and atmosphere to Oldham’s song on the first side. Not much else to say here. You can hear a re-recorded version of “Three Questions” on the Bonnie “Prince” Billy ep, Now Here’s My Plan aka Will Oldham On Bonnie Prince Billyfrom 2012.
My thoughts on the limited edition single released for Record Store Day every year? It’s horribly Western World-centric. 2000 copies (as in the case of this one) is not very limited, but when you don’t live in a place where a local record store stocks it, you have no choice but to buy from a reseller online, and inevitably pay more than retail. Doubly annoying given that Snowstar records, despite having this listed on their store, were not selling it through their store until after Record Store Day was over.
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.