On one hand, Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy) seems to have journeyed a long way from his recordings with Palace Music in the 1990s--which featured a ragged, lo-fi/indie take on backwoods, old-timey American folk--to the comparatively clean, thoughtful, and mature sound of 2006's THE LETTING GO. On the other hand, Oldham's course has remained true in its use of a spare, even stark, singer-songwriter mode to convey complex feelings and observations rendered through his creaky voice and literate, associative lyrics.
Like 2003's MASTER AND EVERYONE, THE LETTING GO is a quiet, introspective record that examines the human heart, but the songs here equal or better those on its excellent predecessor. Oldham's insight into the politics of self and relationships is unflinching, and his wordplay--which balances surreal poetry with heartbreaking confessionals--is at its peak. Sonically, THE LETTING GO is expansive, adding strings, subtle percussion, and ambient effects that enhance but never crowd the songs. Harmony vocalist Dawn McCarthy contributes gorgeous textures to the mix of blues, country, folk, and minstrel-like elements, and all of it makes a persuasive case that Oldham has grown into an artist of striking vision and emotional power.
Spin (p.94) - 3.5 stars out of 5 -- "[The songs] flirt with familiar forms -- from straight-up blues to achy, winsome country ballads....Proving that well-worn ingredients often yield novel and beautiful results."
Entertainment Weekly (p.95) - "Here he returns to more familiar territory, strumming spare elegies on acoustic guitar. His warmth is complemented by chilly accents..." -- Grade: B+
Uncut (p.102) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[T]he most immediately striking thing is the effect of the string arrangements, which add an extra layer of haunting mystery."
The Wire (p.49) - "Prince Billy is more stylistically adventurous than usual here....Even Oldham's most romantic songs are flavoured with a carnal aftertaste. THE LETTING GO is singed with intimacy."
CMJ (p.47) - "The orchestral backings nicely fill the sparse acoustic tunes, and Dawn McCarthy's vocals blend well with Oldham's."
Dirty Linen (p.85) - "The warbling vocals have a poignant, vulnerable quality while much of the music sounds eerily haunting."
No Depression (p.102) - "[T]here's a disarmingly endearing sense that he's found great sweetness in it all."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.102) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[With] expansive arrangements and glowing melodies....Wherever it ultimately sits in the Oldham canon, THE LETTING GO -- introspective, yet as tender and universal as a lover's embrace -- is a fine addition."
Uncut (magazine) (p.83) - "[McCarthy is] a suitable banshee-like foil on one of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's most intimate records."