Liner Note Author: Dave Heumann.
Recording information: Maida Vale 4 (01/28/2001); Maida Vale 4 (04/24/2002); Maida Vale 4 (05/06/1994).
Photographers: Dan Koretzky; Dianne Bellino.
Will Oldham has taken on enough different personas over the course of his career -- recording under several different names, most of them variations on the Palace rubric, and in every style, from the stark solo performances of Days in the Wake to the polished "Nashville Sound" arrangements of Sings Greatest Palace Music -- that he seems to be as much a character actor as a musician. (And he's worked as a professional actor, making the analogy all the more fitting.) With this in mind, this collection of Bonnie "Prince" Billy performances recorded for broadcast on the late John Peel's BBC radio show finds Oldham revisiting a number of songs from throughout his career, but with a different perspective, as if he's choosing to re-think his character as he reinterprets his work. The Bonnie "Prince" Billy on Pond Scum performs in a cooler and more refined manner than the troubled man on Days in the Wake or There Is No-One What Will Take Care of You, but the arrangements are spare and whisper-quiet. Though his tenor is better controlled here, his voice cracks and wanders enough to remind listeners this persona is kin to the lost souls who dominated Oldham's early work. This collection can be read as another example of Oldham's stylistic shape-shifting, yet the relative calm and direct approach of these performances also allows for a straightforward appreciation of his songwriting. These versions of "Stable Will," "Jolly One," "Drunk at the Pulpit," and "Trudy Dies" sound emotionally honest and both beautiful and troubling as Oldham's wordplay, by turns mannered and spontaneous, cries out over a minimal backdrop of guitar. On Pond Scum, these songs seem to escape fully formed from Oldham's soul, even the no-frills cover of Prince's "The Cross," and if one has to take an educated guess about which Bonnie "Prince" Billy we get on this album, it's certain that what he has to say is well worth hearing. ~ Mark Deming