Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bill Callahan album review by Greg Walker for Northern Transmissions

Drag City

9

Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Bill Callahan

Blind Date Party

The new 19-track album from Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bill Callahan, which was compiled during the pandemic from the extensive roster of Drag City artists from David Pajo to AZITA, is a love letter to songwriting, new and old. Covering songs from Hank Williams to Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen to the Silver Jews, there isn’t a song on the album that isn’t almost perfect in its poetry and composition. While their covers aren’t always cut from the same cloth as the originals (see their quirky cover of Air Supply’s “Lost In Love”), they are always well thought out and spirited.

This is certainly because of the roster of amazing musicians that people the album. While it is a folky outing, as you’d imagine from the likes of Will Oldham and Bill Callahan, there are intricate interludes and compositions throughout. Saxophones, trumpets, synthesizers. The sax solo in Jerry Jeff Walker’s “I Love You” is pure gold, for example. Throughout, Oldham and Callahan switch off vocal duties, and Oldham’s nasally tenor and Callahan’s cool baritone act as the perfect odd couple, keeping you enthralled and guessing who’s gonna sing on what. A number of choruses are even shared with both of them singing to great effect.

Bonnie “Prince” Billy, the artist who I’m more familiar with, who I’ve followed for over twenty years now, is no stranger to writing impeccably moving songs, and apparently not a slouch at picking them out from the American Songbook either. Nineteen songs is just enough, a good hour and thirty minutes of music, what you might imagine a good show’s length might be. The album acts as both a celebration and an introduction: to the artists they cover and to the artists who played on the songs. This album proves that you can go for a very long time down the rabbit hole of musicians, old and new, particularly the indie musicians, like Alasdair Roberts and Matt Sweeney who have played with Will Oldham, sometimes since even his Palace Music days.

It’s hard to find a favorite track, just like it would be impossible to pick a favorite child. All the songs are super special. But some of the highlights of the album for me were hearing Mick Turner turn “Sea Song” by Robert Wyatt into a song like one of my old favorites Dirty Three, including, instead of violins, howls by Oldham and others. The discovery of Iggy Pop’s 2009 original, “I Want To Go To The Beach,” decked out in this version with a call and response, joining all the world in the dreary, solo song of Iggy Pop’s about the pain that lingers and the need for escape. The moving cover of David Berman’s “The Wild Kindness,” which features his former wife and bandmate Cassie Berman, a testament to both Berman and mankind’s propensity towards deep love and creativity.

Albums like these make me love being a music reviewer, albums like these are a million times more satisfying when you do all the digging to see who’s playing on the record, what artists are being covered, following along with the lyrics in full poetic glory. Will Oldham and Bill Callahan not only know how to pick amazing songs, but how to make amazing renditions of songs, just as if they wrote them themselves. (For the first four songs, I actually THOUGHT they had written them themselves, a testament to the power of their original material.) If you’re up for diving down the rabbit hole, put this on and let the internet be your helper. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Especially if you’re audiophiles, like myself.

Order Blind Date Party by Bonnie Prince Billy & Bill Callahan HERE