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Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - The Brave and the Bold

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Artist: Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy

Album: The Brave and the Bold

Label: Overcoat

Review date: Mar. 5, 2006

The Brave And The Bold chronicles an iceboat journey of co-captains Will Oldham and Tortoise into the charted but frozen waters of pop and rock’s thinning edges. As they soldier through, both singer and band rest and bathe in the comfort of what they've done recently and successfully. The rabid yodel of Oldham's quasi-Appalachian hillside adjudication, so predictably central to the Palace era, never once bubbles through the molasses yawn here. The languid drawl given to so much homespun obscenity pours itself in nicely empty molds of words by Springsteen, Elton John, and Richard Thompson, among others.

Likewise, Tortoise finds ample opportunity for sleepy boom tic grooves, along with the occasional hep'd-up-on-goofballs freakouts like the hyper-samba of “Cravo E Canela,” a Milton Nasciemento cover, perhaps suggestive of what Tom Zé fans might have witnessed during Tortoise's short tenure as his backing band. Tortoise even manages to uncover an underground passage between Climax Blues Band and L.A. gangster funk on the radical reworking of Bruce Springsteen's “Thunder Road,” chilled in the salt air of an almost Cubist reharmonization. The theme of songs challenged by their performers is a recurring one across The Brave And The Bold. If there is a single standout performance from Tortoise's ranks on this album, it's undoubtedly Jeff Parker's jagged soul fencing, recalling the edgy rock side of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, as well as Dark Side Of The Moon. The low end is nearly limitless in areas, and drums flash to the foreground in the occasional global marching band flurry, but Parker's wickedness cuts through it all on more than one occasion.

The inclusion of songs like “Pancho,” recorded by Don Maclean (Señor American Pie) go some length to dispel the feeling that tracks were selected solely for ironic value; this one's just too lovely, a delicate red glass carafe of a song to hold the smokey wine of Oldham's sincerity, regardless of the Brokeback homoeroticism of the lyrics. The feather touch playing on “Pancho” recalls the tenderness of Nick Cave's “The Ship Song,” made sweeter by the complete absence of irony.

The experiment does at times rush off the tracks into the bushes, where either the spastic tempos prove too much for Oldham's cool croon, or the meat-and-potatoes song structures reject Tortoise's occasional proclivity toward overseasoning. In nearly every case, however, this collaboration consistently yields a sense that Bonnie “Prince” Billy's voice is in fact more suited to music of recent decades than the original performers themselves, as well as the revelation that Tortoise's half-duplex and dubwise spacerock, although cosmetically similar to the airy balladeering of the 1970s, holds its meaning in the multiple contexts explored across The Brave And The Bold.

By Andy Freivogel

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