Will Oldham, the Marxian beard behind the Bonnie “Prince” Billy moniker, has frequently polluted his folk music with guiltless sexuality and morbid playfulness. His arrangements have always been vanilla, but as long as the songwriting’s there and psyche’s shot, who cares, right?
On Master and Everyone Oldham takes a stab at more conventional folk; he mostly abandons the warts that have made his music unique. And while tracks like “Ain’t You Wealthy, Ain’t You Wise?” and the title track carry a stately, ruminative grace, lines like “It’s a hard life, for a man with no wife” fail to resonate and inspire like they could have – in 1935.
Oldham’s sense of history and his talents cannot be denied, but this is a disappointingly predictable turn from one of folk’s most challenging minds. Let’s hope it’s a phase.