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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Greatest Palace Music

Posted By on Wed, Feb 18, 2004 at 12:00 AM

As one of the most enigmatic and enduring voices in the American underground, Will Oldham’s name is synonymous with desperate, renegade folk music. His string of hipster must-haves in the ’90s (Viva Lost Blues, Arise Therefore and Joya) came under a number of names (Palace Music, Palace Brothers and finally Bonnie "Prince" Billy) and made him a reluctant fringe celebrity. Often presented with ragged low-fi aesthetics and a bleak narrative perspective, his masterful focus on age-old obsessions with sex and death has produced one of the most distinctive songbooks of the last two decades.

On Greatest Palace Music, Oldham revisits his most popular "hits." But instead of the loose production of his history, the 15-song retrospective sparkles with Nashville fidelity, employing an impressive lot of studio sidemen and (dare we say) a commercial sensibility. It’s even in tune! The luscious treatment serves Oldham’s songwriting perfectly, and though there are some standouts ("New Partner," "Agnes, Queen of Sorrow") the entire collection is a stunning reminder of Oldham’s singular voice. When it comes to a close, with a western-swinging, sing-along version of "I am a Cinematographer" it feels good to reunite with Oldham. His voice may be slightly unfamiliar, and he may have ditched his thrift store outfits for a slick Nudie suit, but damn, Will, it’s good to see you again.

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