Bonnie 'Prince' Billy : Master And Everyone

He's clever, and sometimes he's hard to trust...

Once a prince of darkness, now Will Oldham is a knave of hearts. After one album ('I See A Darkness') where he took death as his muse, and another ('Ease Down The Road') which dealt with love and sex, here he's decided to investigate one of the fundamental questions. Just what, exactly, is the truth about love?

A tall order for a small album of largely-unaccompanied guitar songs to undertake, but it's all credit to Oldham's now decade-old songwriter's craft that 'Master & Everyone' doesn't buckle under the weight of its burden. Filled with both a clarity of instrumentation and thought, this is an album of undeniably mature work. And one which knows how to effect a large emotional impact without unsightly flexing of the muscles.

This is, after all territory which he has walked before, albeit under

different names. In the various permutations of Palace, Oldham has been funny, sinister and heartbreaking on the subject, has sounded archaic and highly-styled, but here he has found the appropriate guise for his most moving material. On the excellent 'Wolf Among Wolves', in fact, it's disguise that's the issue. A lover complains that though he's adored as "a man among men", it's actually for his great talent in impersonating such a man that he should be loved.

The simple things, it has memorably been said, are all complicated. 'Master & Everyone' - particularly openers 'The Way' and 'Even If Love' - reaffirms it, leaving you with the enduring image of a talented investigator on the trail of extremely slippery prey.

It may be easy to write a love song, but what it is you're meant to be writing about is changing all the time. By the last song, 'Hard Life', though, one thing's certain - you can't do without it. "It's a hard life," he grins, "for a man with no wife..."

He's clever, and sometimes he's hard to trust, but 'Master & Everyone' let's you look at Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with a lot of affection. And who knows what that might turn into?

John Robinson
9 / 10

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