Never one to play by the rules, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s latest LP is a 16 track homage to his long-time and forever hero, the late Merle Haggard. Bonnie aka Will Oldam has often cited Haggard’s work in performance, on records and even talking to the man himself for Filter magazine in 2009. In fact, 25 years previously, Oldham first performed in public by playing a Merle Haggard song.
Oldham is accompanied on the album by the Bonafide United Musicians: Van Campbell, Nuala Kennedy, Danny Kiley, Drew Miller, Cheyenne Mize and Chris Rodahoffer. And also including special guests Mary Feiock, Emmett Kelly, A.J. Roach and Matt Sweeney.
Opener ‘The Fugitive’ is an upbeat country track that shows off the Kentuckian’s vocal range perfectly. ‘I’m Always On A Mountain When I Fall’ is a gloriously beautiful song with complex melodies, harmonies and chord changes that create the kind of texture and beauty with which we are so familiar from Oldham.
‘The Day The Rains Came’ has the added bonus of Mary Feiock accompanying on vocals which creates wonderful harmonies and brings a raw beauty to the song. It’s heartfelt and emotional to listen to. Very powerful.
‘I Always Get Lucky With You’ sees a surprising change in the tempo. The slow, jazzy shuffling brush drumming illustrates wonderfully the range of musical influences and songwriting chops Haggard himself had. The track has a real smoky 50’s feel and you could easily imagine Oldham sitting drunkenly at a bar ordering one too bourbons. A silky sax solo is introduced, as are flute and violin, before being finished off with classical guitar. It’s a track that shows off perfectly the talent of Oldham and Haggard as well as the collective talent of the Bonafide United Musicians. Just wonderful and a stand out track from this long player.
As the LP progresses there are elements of country with ‘My Old Pal’, gorgeous slide guitar and slower, more measured ballad-like tracks such as ‘Roses In The Winter’ and ‘That’s The Way Love Goes’, the latter of which has sublime harmonies and is a calming, life affirming track. And throughout the 16 tracks you get the stunning harmonies and impeccable delivery by Oldham and his band of musicians. Even the final track ‘If I Could Only Fly’, which sounds like a lo-fi demo/studio outtake, you can still hear the man’s unshakeable and incomparable singing and musicianship.
Best Troubadour is a charming and delicate recording that sympathetically pays tribute to Haggard and the range and depth of his songwriting abilities. It is also a fine addition to the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy canon that lays bare the heritage of Oldham’s influences.
A wonderful piece of work. Buy it today.