Matt Sweeney and Bonnie “Prince” Billy-Superwolf (2005)
Bonnie “Prince” Billy alter-ego Will Oldham has stated he took the name of exiled British noble Bonnie “Prince” Charley because he thought it was a beautiful name and beautiful things should live on. Oldham’s music follows this same statement.
Superwolf, a collaboration between guitarist Matt Sweeney and troubadour Oldham, excels at toeing the line between beautiful and depressing. Oldham’s emotion-filled vocals drip with regret and darkness, yet also are calming and pleasant. Sweeney’s melodies sweep by like chromatic poetry, sneaking up on the listener to deliver extra emphasis for Oldham’s lyrics. Like a hobo Billie Holiday, Oldham is able to wring out every bit of emotion from his voice, projecting all his pain and discomfort to the listener. Listening to one man’s inner torment laid out the way Oldham and Sweeney do is beautiful.
Themes of heartbreak surround this work. On “My Home Is The Sea” and “Beast For Thee” Oldham sings as a lost soul, someone who is substituting for his long-long love. “I Gave You” is the most heart-wrenching song on the album: a story about a man who gave everything for his love, and still gets rejected. By the end, Oldham is near tears, the repressed emotion of the rest of the album finally hitting him.
Many people will confuse this for a solo Bonnie “Prince” Billy album, and forget about Sweeney’s work on it. While it’s easy just to take this as another iteration of Oldham’s many personae, this one should be seen as special. Sweeney is one of the only collaborators of Oldham who have been able to keep up with him style-wise. Together they make beautiful depressing music.