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Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - Superwolf

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Artist: Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Album: Superwolf

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jan. 30, 2005

“Ah, Superwolf. Nuts and Gum together at last,” muttered my keen co-worker upon examination of the new Will Oldham album. On paper, admittedly, he had a point. This meeting of singer Will Oldham, the Kentucky bard of bleak, and Matt Sweeney, late of primal fuzzbusters Chavez and the well known Billy Corgan ego-stroke Zwan, seems like an almost laughable idea. Excusing the David Pajo connection, it could be a bet one of the two lost to Drag City chief Koretzky, or something realized in a 10-minute sense blur brought on by copious consumption of salvia divinorum.

Obviously, the two are no strangers to the art of the collaboration, and on Superwolf, it sounds like Sweeney is giving Oldham a little more rope to tie the S.S. Palace to his rock of ages. Armchair indie-yutzes can be quick to cast Oldham away to the island of alt-country, and while such actions are not without reason, they're surely lazy. If anything, Will Oldham is Will Oldham, no matter how many pseudonyms you give him, and in what is turning into a long career of confounding fans and critics with the “is he sincere or not” card, Superwolf contains some of his most startling work yet.

Startling, for even if he is singing about a mythical creature or about having a home in the sea, or spanking a gal across his knee, his sincerity here cannot be questioned, and this could very well be thanks to Sweeney. Here, Sweeney's largely guitar-based compositions either tumble around in the style of Crazy Horse, or unravel gently around Oldham’s croon. Given his track record, it would have been safe to assume that Sweeney would be leaning on the volume knobs and pushing for more frantic rhythms. Here, though, he defies expectations with a subdued approach. There's hardly a hint of Nashville to be found; Superwolf is more along the lines of a Blood On the Tracks or even Lee Hazlewood at his most stark and dreary. Indeed, one may marvel at the unsteady desperation in the words that’s held together by a well-tempered sense of grace. It’s inviting, but once at home, the air becomes thick with pain, isolation and rejection, leaving the listener to wonder whether to nod along or be completely still.

It’s a tension that so many try but fail to acheive, but here Oldham and Sweeney have made it seem so effortless that one has to wonder if Oldham had this in mind since his Kentucky days; that he would someday become “The Voice” that so many talk about, no matter how many masks he applies. Maybe he was just looking for the right counterpart all this time.

By Stephen Sowley

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