After a 16-year wait, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney resurface as Superwolves | Music Review | Chicago Reader

After a 16-year wait, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney resurface as Superwolves 

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click to enlarge Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney

Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Matt Sweeney

Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe

When wolves form a pack, they form bonds that last a lifetime. A similar feeling of familiarity and connection suffuses the duo project of Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) and Matt Sweeney. Each musician is an indisputable titan in his field: Sweeney made his name as a guitarist for 80s cult favorites Skunk and math-rock stalwarts Chavez, while Oldham has endured as one of folk’s most disarmingly frank songwriters. In 2005, they joined forces for Superwolf, a collaborative album intended to mirror the working alliance between Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and on the new Superwolves, they continue to meld lovely, stripped-down arrangements and forthright lyrics. Where Superwolf was unapologetically and sometimes uncomfortably sparse, on Superwolves Oldham and Sweeney aim an array of Americana upward into the cosmic planes. Opener “Make Worry for Me” has a syrupy, bluesy slosh punctuated by clapback snare drum, and Oldham’s voice burrows under your skin and into your heart. Throughout the album, Sweeney strikes a balance between emphasis and restraint like an impassioned conductor guiding the pace and volume of an orchestra, while Oldham weaves tales of godless women, friendless drunks, and philandering housemaids. Oldham and Sweeney provide the core of Superwolves, but it’s hardly an insular album, and the duo are at their best when other musicians stoke the flames of their searing melodies. “Hall of Death,” cowritten by Mdou Moctar guitarist Ahmoudou Madassane and performed with Moctar and his full ensemble, is a rambling showcase of Tuareg desert blues and Oldham’s salt-lick twang. The record also includes tempered folk-rock covers (“There Must Be Someone” by the Gosdin Brothers) and absurdist lullabies (“My Popsicle”). Written throughout the decline and death of Oldham’s mother from Alzheimer’s disease, Superwolves is tinged with several shades of loss—narrators crawl toward bright white lights, memories are lost to the wind, and blazing skies swallow the world whole. While the album could have served admirably as an elegy to the departed, Oldham and Sweeney also find celebration in suffering and strength in each other.   v

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