Bonnie Prince Billy – Keeping Secrets will Destroy You (2023)

Fair Dealing/Fair Use

A friend and I, in an effort to broaden our musical appreciation, agreed to listen to and review albums we would never normally listen to. Due to the effort this involved, the scope broadened after a short while to intermittently include those albums that we would normally listen to (mostly new releases). Those albums which we would not normally listen to were selected at random from the book 1001 Albums You Must Listen to Before You Die, a book that I would not recommend.

The reviews were never intended to be published in any way but may bring some enjoyment to the fair folk of this parish. 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that Will Oldham, aka Bonnie Prince Billy, aka Palace, cannot make music that isn’t exceptional. In the Billy top trumps he’s the one you pull out when up against Corgan. Because a lot of what he does is shit. But let’s not smash pumpkins.

Keeping Secrets will Destroy You is more of the same as other albums but it’s just oh so moreish. You know that yank camping pudding, s’more? Melted marshmallow sandwiched between ‘cookies’ (digestive biscuits if you’re more Blighty). That’s what BPB is. Not in the vein of too much will make you sick, but in the way that it is / he is unashamedly American. And so he bloody should be. He takes the best of his substantial cultural heritage and carries it forwards, the flagbearer for the trappers of the North; the coopers of prairie wagon wheels; the lasso makers of the mid-prairies.

Never pretending to be something he isn’t is the iron core of Keeping Secrets Will Destroy You’s strength. From the brutally simple truth in the title, BPB’s voice wavers with his distinct warble over simply strummed or picked instruments: fiddles, banjos, guitars and the occasional flourish of a saxophone (I didn’t think this would work, but it does. It’s like when Bob Ross adds yellow to brown and gets the exact colour of Appalachian pine trees’ leaves). It’s this integrity which makes the album so charming. Honesty is the board for BPB’s lyrical darts and he hits the bullseye every time. I don’t even think there’s a Jim Bowen cameo, it’s just not needed. But if there was, BPB would definitely be winning Bully’s special prize.

The silly and absurd isn’t too far away, because those who are sincere and honest can be silly. The operatic Bananas touches on the bonkers with Bananas, how well we fit together. Stand out tracks are too many to list, but Blood of the Wine’s minor key and incessant strumming is an antidote to Bananas and continues BPB’s recurring source of his Christianity as both his guidance and yard stick. The melodies come as effortlessly as a spring-melt-gorged bear-country brook.

Sing Them Down Together treats modern culture’s disdain for truth with a mature subtlety: obfuscation is the rule, clarity the unused tool. Both sides of the political spectrum captured in eight words.

Frankly, I could go on; for each song has a delicacy infrequently seen nowadays. But that does bring us nicely full circle to BPB carrying the flame of Americana-folk forward. Throughout the series of these reviews there are few albums I’ve genuinely enjoyed, but this is without doubt one of them. I like to think I’ve been a harsher critic for my already-professed adoration of BPB, but even that has not been able to render my words any more than praise.

The album is beautiful, timeless and in fifty years, God bidding, if I am able to still listen to it I know I shall be. Hat’s off, Mr. Oldham.

© Cromwell’s Codpiece 2024