Will Oldham's approach to music has never been that of a typical singer-songwriter, be it his attitude, style or sound. Under his various Palace monikers, he perfected a strange and mysterious faux-Appalachian indie-country sound and image, which reached a classic peak with 1999's I See a Darkness, his first album under the Bonnie "Prince" Billy moniker. Heck, Johnny Cash was so impressed that he covered the title track as a duet with Oldham.
Things took an interesting turn with last year's rather dull Lie Down in the Light. With Beware, Oldham picks up where Lie Down left off, with more traditional country thrown in, often sounding a bit like 2004's revisionist faux pas Sings Greatest Palace Music.
A majority of the tracks here are so straight-up country that longtime fans might wonder if Oldham has moved from his hometown of Louisville, Ky., to Nashville, Tenn., or if he's started hanging out at the Grand Ole Opry. This isn't to say there aren't some familiar Oldham-sounding moments; there just are not enough to stand on their own.
This comes as a surprise, as recent collaborations with the likes of Matt Sweeney (2005's Superwolf), Tortoise (2006's The Brave and the Bold) and current touring violinist Cheyenne Mize (this year's Among the Gold EP) have yielded some of the most vibrant and interesting stuff of his career.
Perhaps he has gotten too good at what he does, and/or this is just the natural progression of Oldham's voice and technique—but here's hoping the next one doesn't sound so phoned in.