Donal Dineen’s Sunken Treasure: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy - ‘I See A Darkness’

The Kentucky native is a troubadour with a rare gift f\or joining the dots that remain invisible to human eyes

Poetic but unpretentious: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

Poetic but unpretentious: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

 

There would be a considerable hole in the great-albums pile were it not for this man, yet he goes about his business without fuss or fanfare. That is one of the many things I like about Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. In fairness, there’s a lot to love.

Very often, success will push an artist into a world of PR sheen and shine that then denies them access to the previously unadorned world that probably provided their inspiration. Across 20-odd albums you get the impression that Billy’s heart never really left Kentucky at all. He spread his wings and found he could glide high with the best of them, but his feet remained firmly on the ground. His songs are unfiltered hymns to the real and the true. He strives to inject real meaning and feelings into his character’s voices. He’s a troubadour with a rare gift for joining the dots that remain invisible to human eyes.

It could easily have been so different. He could have set up shop under the spotlight so obvious was his talent. Aged 17, John Sayles chose him for a lead role in Matewan, a wonderful film about an Appalachian mining community. He moved to Hollywood, but soon retreated and began making music. He quickly found his voice.

Just as rapidly he found he could shape and bend it to wrap around all sorts of sounds. His versatility as a singer is unmatched.

In 1993, he released his first album as Palace Brothers, There is no-one what will take care of you. He came to Cork and I interviewed him for No Disco. I’ve met few people as interesting since. He carried a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand and held his trousers up with a copy of Ulysses stuffed down the back. It was 11am. All I remember is the poetic but unpretentious way he spoke and the fact that he asked me more questions than I did of him.

I haven’t said much about I Aee a Darkness. There is little to say expect that it’s his masterpiece. Don’t be afraid of the dark. The warmth of the production makes it a joyous listen. The light breaks through at regular intervals and the tranquility at its core is of a rarer kind.

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