Review: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, 'Best Troubador' | WVIA

Review: Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, 'Best Troubador'

Last Updated by Stephen Thompson on

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released.

Will Oldham has broadcast his love of Merle Haggard's music since the beginning of his career: He's sung the man's praises in interviews, performed his songs in concert, and he even interviewed him for a print magazine a few years back. Clearly, something about Haggard — the rugged plain-spokenness, the gift for efficiently distilling ideas to their essence, his prolificacy and contrarian streak and all-around iconoclasm — got its hooks in Oldham early.

Given the sheer volume of Oldham's work (recorded under his own name and as variations on the Palace moniker, but mostly as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy), it's no surprise that he'd long considered paying album-length tribute to Haggard, even well before the country legend's death just a little more than a year ago. But notes of loss and reverence still hang over Best Troubador [sic], a sprawling and heartfelt tribute that reaches across Haggard's discography — plucking highlights from 1967, 2011 and many points in between — to paint a vivid and chronology-busting portrait of Oldham's greatest inspiration.

Best Troubador is recorded under Oldham's Bonnie 'Prince' Billy alias with the aid of a terrific backing band: drummer Van Campbell, singer and flautist Nuala Kennedy, bassist Danny Kiely, saxophonist Drew Miller, fiddler Cheyenne Mize and guitarist and banjo player Chris Rodahaffer. And, along the way, Oldham brings in an assortment of guests and even passes lead vocals on to other singers. That's A.J. Roach singing lead in "The Day The Rains Came Down," for example, while Mary Feiock trades verses with Oldham in "Nobody's Darling."

As befitting both the subject and the star here, Best Troubador stays loose throughout. Songs are chosen for their meaning to Oldham rather than for their ubiquity: "Mama Tried" is relegated to an outtake sung by Oscar Parsons, "If I Could Only Fly" is stripped down to an album-closing solo demo, and "Okie From Muskogee" is omitted entirely. These aren't Merle Haggard Cliff's Notes, after all. Instead, they work like battered but kindly kept pages out of a well-loved songbook, performed and preserved with love and care.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

listenlive_fulllength.jpg cove_spacer.png
Now Playing on WVIA-FM



Authorities In Austin Say Latest Package Bombs Sent By Same Person

One package bomb found on Tuesday at a FedEx facility near San Antonio injured an employee when it went off. A...

Lawsuits Force Alleged Trump Affairs, Sexual Misconduct Claims Back Into Public Eye

A former Playboy model is suing a company she says is trying to keep her silent about her alleged relationship with...

1 Man Injured As Authorities In Austin Respond To Another Reported Explosion

Authorities in Austin, Texas, responded to another explosion Tuesday night. They said a man in his 30s was seriously...

healthybites_sidebar2.png reserve3.png