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Album Review

Will Oldham's musical personality is strong and distinct enough that when he collaborates with another artist, with rare exception he firmly takes the lead (whether or not that was the intention). And while guitarist Matt Sweeney (formerly of Chavez and Zwan) gets equal billing with Oldham's alter ego Bonnie "Prince" Billy on 2005's Superwolf, one listen confirms that this is primarily Oldham's work, with Sweeney obviously second in command. (The liner notes state that Oldham wrote the lyrics and Sweeney wrote the music, though to these ears Sweeney is either remarkably gifted at channeling Oldham's musical notions or the lyricist passed along a few melodic ideas as well.) However, this isn't to say Sweeney's presence isn't strongly and clearly felt here — Superwolf exists in a musical landscape very much like Bonnie "Prince" Billy's earlier recorded work, such as Ease Down the Road and I See a Darkness, but Sweeney's periodic interjections of hard guitar lines give this a firmer musical texture and a stronger structural backbone than one might expect. Also, with Sweeney on hand, Oldham has kept some of his less appealing musical eccentricities in check — this is one of his strongest and best-focused works in years, with the slow tempos adding drama to songs that manage to go somewhere in dramatic fashion despite their deliberate pace, and Sweeney's spare but evocative guitar lines fill the spaces without cluttering the frames. Even if Oldham ends up being front and center on Superwolf, the results make it clear the man works best with a strong collaborator, and it's hard not to hope Oldham and Sweeney continue to work together in the future.

Superwolf, Matt Sweeney
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