Bonnie Prince Billy & The Cairo Gang – The Wonder Show of the World

April 12, 2010

I tend to like everything that Will Oldham does, but there’s so much of it, it’s often hard to separate out the really great from the just plain old usual very good.

Up until now, though, the lp I’ve kept going back to is the collaborative effort with Tortoise, “The Brave the Bold,” from 2006. There, Oldham as Bonnie Price Billy sings as the band blazes on high in the background, totally reworking classic songs by Springsteen (“Thunder Road”), Devo (“That’s Pep!”), Richard Thompson (“Cavalry Cross”), The Minutemen (“It’s Expected I’m Gone”), and (even) Elton John (“Daniel”) among others.

But this new album with Emmett Kelley aka The Cairo Gang stands right up there as a new favorite. Whereas Tortoise provided a giant, noisy, and colorful backdrop against which to perform, here Kelley’s sparse but expressive guitar work matches up perfectly with the same qualities in Oldham’s voice, producing powerful and moving compositions like “Troublesome Houses,” “With Cornstalks or Among Them,” “The Sounds are Always Begging,” and “That’s What Our Love Is.” The lp’s title is fitting, too, as together the ten tracks capture all of the horror/madness/passion/amazement — all of the wonder, that is — that life in this world has to offer.

“The Wonder of the World” is out now, on Drag City records.

Emmet Kelly/Cairo Gang & Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy

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