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Tortoise & Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Brave and the Bold

Released on Overcoat Recordings, 1/24/06

Will Oldham is an indie-rock chameleon; the prolific singer/songwriter swaps names almost as much as he swaps collaborating partners. Witness his Bonnie "Prince" Billy alter ego's new partnership with Chicago art-rock collective Tortoise, a low-fi meets hi-fi covers record that careens wildly across the map, from Richard Thompson to Devo, Lungfish to Melanie.

Oldham and Tortoise have long been swimming in the same musical ether, but it never seemed like they'd be crazy enough to try and put it all together. Tortoise's music often feels like the soundtrack to a silvery-future time -- like a jazzy sci-fi flick with brushed metal cars and sultry fembots everywhere. Conversely, Oldham's shaky voice is straight out of a whiskey-drenched saloon, all rusty and tortured. Bottom line: this is some disparate shit right here, and despite the fact that both artists' signature sounds remain pristinely unchanged, the record somehow works.

The first indication that The Brave and the Bold is more than just the sum of its parts comes about halfway into the second track, an ominous re-imagining of Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road". Backed by a Jeff Parker's panning, stereoscopic guitar line, Oldham's wail brings out dark new facets of long-familiar Springsteen themes. This kind of feeling strikes again and again in other notable tracks including the Minutemen's "It's Expected I'm Gone" and the Elton John's "Daniel". Other tracks, say the strange Brazillian folk opener ""Cravo Canela" buckle a bit under the uber-indie-ness of this idea, but it's all worth it once the stunning version of Thompson's "Calvalry Cross" splits your speakers open.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars