Feature: Bonnie Prince Billy at the Wex

By Columbus Alive
From the January 24, 2013 edition

Earlier this month, Bonnie “Prince” Billy announced an album of Everly Brothers covers with Dawn McCarthy called What the Brothers Sang. But BPB, the best-known guise of Louisville iconoclast Will Oldham, won’t be drawing from that record at all Friday at the Wexner Center. Oldham’s visit to Columbus promises to be something far more special.

Oldham is averse to one-off shows — he disparagingly compares them to one-night stands — so he usually turns down offers that aren’t part of a larger tour. But when Bonnie “Prince” Billy was invited to perform at NPR’s “Mountain Stage” in Charleston and an exhibit by hacker/artist Cory Arcangel at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh in the same weekend, he couldn’t turn it down.

“I asked if we could at least make a trilogy of shows out of it, which is what we’re doing,” Oldham said Friday.

Columbus is the beneficiary of that plan. Oldham’s bringing along fellow Louisville musicians Cheyenne Marie Mize and Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly to perform as a trio on this mini-tour, reprising a touring and recording partnership he counts among the most rewarding projects of his two-decade career. He spoke of a special chemistry among their “nice little triangle,” citing his longstanding collaboration with Kelly and his deep appreciation for Mize’s “generous” playing style thanks to her background as a music therapist.

“Your idea of ‘What is music?’ completely opens up,” Oldham said. “‘What is music?’ and ‘What is successful music?’ is based on how well the musicians are communicating with each other, and that’s kind of it.”

Expect a set that’s “all over the map,” which for Oldham is really saying something. The bearded enigma has tackled everything from the Americana upheaval of his Palace days to the mournful folk of Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s classic I See a Darkness, from teaming with Matt Sweeney of Chavez under the name Superwolf to gallivanting around a barnyard in an alternate video for Kanye West’s “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”

The latest of those projects, What the Brothers Sang, is coming Feb. 19 on oddball Chicago label Drag City. The record digs deep into the Everly Brothers’ catalog, encompassing material from the group’s lesser-known later years.

“It was just, these guys have done the heavy lifting, and they’ve come up with an incredible repertoire of songs that are good for two voices,” Oldham said. “And so let’s totally stand on their shoulders and re-attack these songs.”

Simona Dalla Valle photo