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Album Review

Bonnie "Prince" Billy, 'Beware'

March 16, 2009
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Indie Rock
Bonnie "Prince" Billy Beware
Drag City
ESSENTIAL "Afraid Ain't Me"
Bonnie "Prince" Billy plays the Wilbur Theatre on May 17.

For a dude who claims to relish his privacy, Will Oldham sure has spent a lot of 2009 in front of the lens. First came an exhaustive and adoring New Yorker profile in January, then a spate of press junkets, and now a new Bonnie "Prince" Billy album called "Beware," which features on its cover a photograph of Oldham's head, peeking halfway out of the shadow, like a big bald moon escaping an eclipse. I guess Oldham would say all this exposure is necessary, but what it really feels like is a sequence in a natural progression. Even more so than last year's "Lie Down in the Light," "Beware" is purposefully lush, heavy on the strings, the roaring choruses, and on "I Won't Ask Again," a ghostly and gorgeous choral arrangement. Gone is the frayed exuberance of older Billy projects. With the help of an expert new backing band, Oldham wrings a polished grace out of this material, from ballads ("I Don't Belong to Anyone") to smoldering anthems ("Afraid Ain't Me"). It may be true, as Oldham recently said, that he doesn't yet have a million fans, but one only has to listen to the friendly honky-tonk of "I Am Goodbye" to know it won't be long. (Out tomorrow)

MATTHEW SHAER

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