The travelling circus of Will Oldham is in town again, with its usual ringmaster, but the show in the tent has changed. Like Jack White, Oldham is known for his take-charge approach to creative collaborations, and the inconsistency of their fruits. He's been adored and lambasted in his 10 year reign.
This time, Oldham has guitarist Emmett Kelly and bassist Shahzad Ismailly of The Cairo Gang on board. They've actually met before: Ismailly and Kelly have played on several of Billy's other releases, including 'Lie Down in the Light.' But it's the first time they've even been given a billing in name, and listening to this album, there's no doubt they've earned it.
Unlike some of Oldham's back catalogue, this is a record completely at ease with its own simplicity. The arrangements are stripped back but extremely careful, not a beard whisker out place. Kelly's guitar is both gorgeous and technically impressive, and Oldham's baritone just melts with his butter soft harmonies. The finer moments of this solid album, such as 'Merciless and Great,' are where all parties in this allegiance come together, and dazzle the listener.
The natural ease with which you can approach the ten rather lengthy tracks of The Wonder Show may raise suspicions that Oldham is getting, dare we say, contented? He is now a grown up, married man after all. But then again, when he tells us "One day my wife went crazy, started chopping up the bed," we are reminded that his humour is still as black as pitch.