Listening to Bonnie 'Prince' Billy conjures many familiar images: winding slowly through mountain roads; jumping through bonfires; watching shadows in the woods; cracking up with friends on porches. This Sunday night at the Clifton Center, many will witness Louisville's own Will Oldham adopt his Appalachian mystic persona as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy.
Oldham has been one of Louisville's most prolific artists for over a decade, with over 20 albums and compilations under several previous monikers like Palace, Palace Music, and Palace Brothers. One of his most heart-rending songs, "I See a Darkness," was covered by Johnny Cash just before Cash's death. If that wasn't enough, Oldham has also acted in over a dozen feature films since the 80's, most recently in Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. Oldham first appeared in John Sayle's Matewan as a teenage preacher during the miner's strike. In another film currently making waves at festivals, a short called Pioneer, Oldham plays a father reading a bedtime story to his son. The man has acting chops, and his film roles have been growing in number and range lately.
It's hard to say who came first, Will Oldham the actor, or Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, the goth-folk-country singer-songwriter. When I picked up his 2003 album "Master and Everyone" on a whim, I didn't recognize him as the kid from Matewan (1987). I imagine that even in his early years, there were many cicada-filled summer nights of Oldham playing guitar and singing harmony with his brothers. His lyrics are known for crossing into blue territory on occasion, especially when he dares to recount hilariously bawdy details of intimacy (do not bring kids to the show). At the same time, Oldham's music is at its best when he sings softly of finding God within our smoldering souls. Or when he croons to a beloved woman, a brother, or a friend about seeing the darkness, knowing the darkness, and being saved from that darkness. Catch him Sunday, 10/9/11 at the Clifton Center, 7:30 PM.