Classic Americana Albums: Palace Brothers “There is no-one what will take care of you”

Drag City, 1993

There is no-one what will take care of you‘ was the first full-length release created by Will Oldham, a native of Kentucky, in 1993 which began his longstanding musical journey involving a variety of monikers (Palace Music, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Palace Music, Palace among them).   When it was initially released by Drag City it was virtually uncredited and there was a certain mystery about who might have been involved in creating the music on the album.  Oldham worked on the album with musical collaborators who were forging their own identities within their own bands which have had varying degrees of success or recognition.  Palace Brothers consisted of members of Slint (Britt Walford, Brian McMahan, and Todd Brashear and included other musicians (Paul Greenlaw – Banjo and Grant Barger) who have collaborated under Will Oldham’s various guises.  The album contains 11 originals written by Oldham and one cover of a song by Washington Phillips a gospel performer who created music in the early 1900s.

Will Oldham’s talents as a storyteller are evident across this gloriously miserable collection of songs.  The songs drip with a weird combination of off-kilter lyrics and music that sounds like it was recorded underwater or in a dark place,  Oldham’s songs are both hushed and clattering at times with his raspy voice regaling us with tales of sex and religion which can make for uncomfortable listening at times. Oldham sings about faith and hypocrisy on ‘(I was drunk at the) pulpit’ about a drunken preacher “Wherever folks gather, to imply a rule they are each one a sinner, each one a fool” but uses language in other songs ‘O Lord are you in need’ where the narrator is seeking connection with God. The music feels haunted by ghosts with Oldham making spectral invocations across the album sounding like he is searching for answers but unable to find them.  Oldham’s vocals are in and out of key and the music is lo-fi with the skeletons of songs that will either endear themselves to you or will make you cringe either in embarrassment at his efforts or at the oddness of the themes,  Will Oldham”s work as an actor appears to add to his ability to inhabit the characters in his songs and sketch out their feeling of shame, hope, hopelessness, and seeking redemption.  The music is not post-rock but is rather more timeless drawing on bluegrass with banjo filling in the spaces of the sparse production.

Oldham would go on to further develop his songwriting talents, widen his musical range and collaborate with other musicians (such as Matt Sweeney on ‘Superwolf‘ and its sequel) but his first full release with its rawness, loose production and awkwardness make this a Classic Americana album that deserves recognition for its rugged darkness. This is not an easy listen but is one that if you allow it space will wrap its arms around you dragging you into its depths.

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