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Master and Everyone—9  

 

Released: 2003

1) This Way  2) Ain't You Wealthy, Ain't You Wise  3) Master and Everyone  4) Wolf Among Wolves  5) Joy and Jubilee  6) Maundering  7) Lessons From What's Poor  8) Even If Love  9) Three Questions  10) Hard Life

 

As “i see a darkness” is about death, “Master and Everyone” is about relationships.  Bonnie “Prince” Billy takes an even more sparse approach with this collection of tracks, creating a back mountain soundtrack of wearyingly sluggish music for heartbroken country bumpkins everywhere.  But behind each of the ten songs is “something.”  Sometimes the songs are just sad wanderings, and other times they have a more direct route, but each tune has “something” that makes it stand out form its company.  Don’t except to fall in love with this album on first listen though; it is definitely one that you need to get to know for a while…   

 

Just how much Will Oldham sounds like Nick Drake on a few of these tracks is unsettling.  His guitar playing and melodies are too simple for such a comparison, but the mood the songs portray is striking similar to Drake’s acoustic classic, “Pink Moon,” and their voices are sometimes eerily familiar.  “Master and Everyone” is less diverse and even more dreary and tedious than Drake's classic, but the ironic thing is that it’s probably Oldham’s most accessible album.  Accessible doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll like it, as it is another type of record that you have to be in the right mood to enjoy: a reflective, fireplace, rainy, bitter mood.  But for me, there is just something so inharmoniously soothing about this album…like visiting a relative’s gravesite after they pass: you never wanted to go, and you feel uncomfortable when you’re there, but you know it’ll help quiet the urge to come again, so you are strangely satisfied.          

 

The opening “This Way” limps in with acoustic picking, pensive vocals, and lovesick lyrics.  Elegant strings quietly join the chorus, and this gentle ballad really is stylish and charming, paving the way for the entire album.  On “Ain’t You Wealthy, Ain’t You Wise” that “something” is the fluid humming of Marty Slayton.  Her slightly country, backwoods-of-Georgia voice really suits the tune, and the lyrics make no real sense, but draw you in all the same.  The title track might as well be a Nick Drake impression with its restrained, but determined vocals, short length, innocent melody, and instant likeability.  In contrast to the music though, Oldham’s words are so harsh here, assuredly explaining to his former love that he is over her and ready for freedom.   

 

Wolf Among Wolves” is as hurt and as questioning as “Master and Everyone” is candid.  The double-tracked vocals are as deadpanned as ever, but Oldham’s humming, taking the place of an instrumental break, thrusts the song towards the best he has yet written, and represents that separating “something” for this tune.  Joy and Jubilee” too is one of Oldham’s best songs, with its brilliantly simple acoustic run.  It is the happiest sounding track on this album (probably the only one that you’ll sing along with too), but is still so quiet and introspective that it is just as likely to break you down as make you smile.  Slayton returns for another duet on the sullen “Maundering.” Here, Oldham’s lyrics describe how he plans to win back his lady, but sings as if he knows that that is just a dream, with the tune never staying on any one pattern.   

 

Lessons From What’s Poor” has a great little, slightly hopeful, riff with lyrics straight out of the Great Depression.  Slayton softly joins Oldham again on this song, and they each instruct the listener to trust the poor over the wealthy, because they never lied to get what wasn’t theirs.  Even If Love” is much more gloomy and bluesy than the rest of the album, with its slow, moody guitar picking and slightly frightening lyrics.  Three Questions” features strange, echoed duet vocals, a beautiful organ solo, and tender lyrics, asking if the singer is the most important person in his love’s eyes, while the closing “Hard Life” is another duet with Slayton and probably the most accessible tune on the album.  It still stays with the tone of the record, but it adds a distinct country feel, with lyrics: “It’s a hard life, for a man with no wife.”  The coda is absolutely gorgeous though, the most goose-bump-giving moment on the entire record, and a stellar closer.

 

If you manage to even buy this album, bypassing your fear of the “Deliverance” close-up picture on the cover, you’ll probably be bored out of your mind with “Master and Everyone.”  I was too, after the first few listens…but “something” clicked.  The old school, mountain man approach really corralled my senses and I’ve come to appreciate how authentic these tracks sound.  Will Oldham really is recreating a type of music that can only be American…a combination of acoustic blues, country, western, folk, and gothic, and he does so with such an aura of mystery surrounding his motives that I can’t helped but be intrigued by the man, his myth, and his stunning music.

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