by / March 30th, 2010 /

Bonnie “Prince” Billy & the Cairo Gang – Whelan’s, Dublin

Tickets: € €29 ( fee) from & WAV Tickets [1890 200 078]
Keeping himself admirably busy over recent times, Will Oldham returns with yet another new full-length for Drag City/Domino, a studio-recorded follow-up to last year’s acclaimed Beware. For The Wonder Show Of The World, Oldham is joined by his frequent collaborator, guitarist Emmett Kelly, who on this occasion steps up to the position of “first mate and then some”, as the album credits would have it.

The album starts impishly with Oldham hinting at some nefarious nocturnal activities: “I once loved a girl, but she couldn’t take that I visited troublesome houses,” he laments during the opener, with a very capable Kelly performance at his side. Kelly features more prominently still on ‘Teach Me To Bear You,’ which comes with wonderfully fluid, bluesy guitar soloing and reverberating vocal harmonies.

After the comparative expanse of albums like Beware and The Letting Go, this record reverts to a more self-restrained instrumental palette, concentrating on the song at hand and the two central performers; their voices and guitars. Consequently there’s a ramshackle, intimately lo-fi country feel to the recordings, with just a couple of extra players cropping up – Mt. Eerie’s Phil Elverum assists on vocals during ‘Go Folks, Go’ and ‘Kids’, while prolific session player Shahzad Ismaily provides bass and occasional percussion. The lyrical, pared down arrangements serve these songs wonderfully well, and the tirelessly high quality of Oldham’s writing seeps through every measure of mournful rustic ballads like ‘Merciless & Great’ or ‘Someone Coming Through’. Although it takes a different angle on Oldham’s music, The Wonder Show Of The World continues with the same strength of form that made Beware such a highlight of last year.