By: Eric Greenwood
When a lauded songwriter puts out a collection of covers it usually indicates a bad case of writer's block, but since this EP follows hot on the heels of the long-awaited full-length, Ease Down The Road, Will Oldham proves that he's merely paying homage as opposed just to buying time. These six songs spring from random points in the musical spectrum, ranging from obscure reggae to schmaltzy country to underground modern rock and several layers in between. However, Oldham tweaks each song to suit his own off-kilter brand of inbred woe.
Oldham's take on John Phillips' "Someone's Sleeping", for example, brightens this brief and forgettable ode with twinkling piano and wounded yet hopeful vocals. The full band adds texture to the sparse music but tends to swallow Oldham's wavering croon. That problem is exacerbated on his interpretation of PJ Harvey's "Sweeter Than Anything", although, it is oddly charming to hear Oldham squeak as he stretches to hit the high notes. He knows he can't match Harvey's glazed over intensity note for note, so he makes it vulnerable and heart-rending instead.
Oldham's tortured rendition of Bill Withers' "Same Love That Made Me Laugh" is eerily affecting in its brief ascent into dirty blues-drenched guitars and warm organs, climaxing with Oldham's patented off-key wail. The Renderer's "A Dream Of The Sea" shakes the dirt off Oldham's and his cohorts' boots with a surprisingly jaunty gait. A cascade of echoing guitars just barely saves it from mediocrity, though. With nary a trace of irony Oldham covers Tim McGraw's "Just To See You Smile", a sappy, ingratiating love song from country's commercial line, and he sounds like he means every cheesy word.
Don't be fooled into thinking that Will Oldham's choices of songs here will clue you into the mystery of his manifold psyche. They are just random enough to be perfectly calculated, preventing such projections. A covers album (or EP) is probably more indulgent than it is reverent, especially from a man whose original material evokes such pure and primal emotions. This is an enjoyable listen however inessential to Oldham's indomitable canon.