Rian Murphy and Will Oldham
All Most Heaven
This is impressive. Although there are only four songs on this EP from Oldham (ye avant-hillbilly supreme), they’re so brimming with beautiful incongruities and so richly textured that length is of little import. Call it rococo-Americana – urban, decadent, yet reminiscent of the best of the backwoods – this is Oldham at his best. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that he’s flanked by Rian Murphy (of Red Krayola and Palace fame), and Jim O’Rourke (a modern-day indie Phil Spector incarnate). O’Rourke’s arrangements are truly amazing. Listening to them alone brings to mind the classier moments of the High Lamas or the score for the movie Popeye by Harry Nilsson and Van Dyke Parks. It’s a mini-orchestra: swaggering, elegant, and in parlor music mode. One of the most intriguing aspects of All Most Heaven is the mix of high and low art. It’s astounding, at first, when Oldham’s warbled, soar-throat voice comes astride the refined instrumentation. Picturing professional musicians getting paid to lay down these luxuriant tracks to have Oldham yodel his way through them is delightful.
Will Oldham has always had a tiny child-prodigy and a little preacher inside of him. As a kid-evangelist in the film Matewan (1987), there was a foreshadowing of the Appalachian-prophet to come. Some of the songs on All Most Heaven are tinged with divine calling. Perhaps the lyrics to the third track, “Song of Most,” are autobiographical: “I knew what I wanted to do when I was only three years old.” It’s good to see that Pushkin’s got his groove back and knows again what he wants to do (who he wants to be is an entirely different matter for the man with a thousand aliases). For those whose faith in the post-_Palace_ material has been waning, this could be the record that ushers you back into the fold.
Drag City, P.O. Box 476807, Chicago, IL 60647; http://www.dragcity.com