Home / The Friday Morning Listen: Tortoise & Bonnie “Prince” Billy

The Friday Morning Listen: Tortoise & Bonnie “Prince” Billy

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I was shocked to see my own hand picking up this CD and carrying it toward the checkout counter. Shocked.

I’ve read just so much praise for Bonnie “Prince” Billy (his mom named him Will Oldham). I even went so far as to borrow a copy of the hallowed Ease Down The Road, and I still haven’t figured out what the fuss is all about. There’s a copy of that music on my iPod, which I stubbornly listen to once a week or so, hoping for the light to come on.

So far … nothing.

Tortoise, on the other hand, is more to my liking. Tough to categorize (like much of the music profferred by the Thrill Jockey label), I like to think of them as the music played as soundtrack to the recurring nightmare you have where you’re stuck in a submarine with no crew. If that doesn’t make sense to you, pick up a copy of their Millions Now Living Will Never Die. You’ll see.

So what of this most bizarre collaboration? I couldn’t resist. The idea of Oldham’s voice merged with the musical contortions of Tortoise was like that car accident you can’t look away from. There was a possibility of gore and shock, but I had to take the chance.

Plus, a cover of my favorite song of all time: Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.”

The verdict? If you’re not put off by tunes being given the fun house mirror treatment, this is a pretty good record. “Thunder Road,” with a bizarre synthesizer riff right out of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd, is just plain weird. I like it though, for reasons that I hope will someday become less abstract. There’s a version of Elton John’s “Daniel” that I almost like more than the original.

Seriously, I’ve gotta give these guys kudos for some great picks. I mean, when’s the last time you heard Devo’s “That’s Pep!”? I’m not even sure if I like the opening “Cravo E Canela” (Milton Nascimento), but it’s worth multiple listens if for nothing else than the oddity of Tortoise applying the funk.

Forget all of the other covers though, as Richard Thomson’s “Calvary Cross” is just brilliant.

I’m shocked that I just wrote that.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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About Mark Saleski

  • I like both BPB and Tortoise (to varying degrees) but I was a little disappointed with this album (despite the great cover image). Sounded a little heavy-handed and uninspired or something. I don’t know. I’ll have to give it a few more spins. Of course, being sort of pop-culture ignorant, I’m not familiar with many of the original tunes here, and it’s probably more fun if you are (as with most of these kinds of albums.)

    As far as BPB goes, my favorite would be “Plays Greatest Palace Music” (though I know many thought this album was a travesty and/or joke.) The recent “Superwolf” with Matt Sweeney has some great stuff on it too. And “Master and Everyone” is probably his most accessible/enjoyable effort.


  • another excellent friday morning listen, sir saleski. i haven’t head anywhere near enough Bonnie Prince Billy, but what i have encountered has been uncoomonly beautiful, especially the second record, i believe, when it was still all saucepan-percussion an the like. reminded me of Jandek with real melodies a bit, in fact.