Late Greats: PALACE MUSIC’s Viva Last Blues

vlbThere’s not much I can say about Will Oldham of Louisville that hasn’t already been said. He’s managed to build a strong career by releasing engimatic and expertly crafted records of poignant not-quite-freak-folk and alt-alt-country. Back in the day, I was a high school freshman shopping at ear X-tacy and decided to pick up Palace Brothers’ Days In the Wake (then untitled, sporting only a poorly lighted portrait of who could only be Oldham). I liked it (it will one day get its own memoir here), so I picked up Viva Last Blues when it debuted just a few months later and I liked it too.

If Days In the Wake is Oldham’s Nebraska, then VLB is his Born in the USA. VLB was a resounding success, featuring several of his strongest songs to date. He’s never written a song that rocks quite as hard as “Work Hard/Play Hard”, and “The Mountain Low” is known for featuring Oldham’s most (in)famous lyrical turn. Understated tracks like “The Brute Choir” and the roadhouse swagger of “Cat’s Blues” ensure that VLB sports no filler, and at times Oldham seems like he meet just ignite through his vocals. VLB is a truly spirited record, short and perfect, but it’s the seventh song that really seals the classic status of this record.

“New Partner” is the kind of simple song that would be the crowning achievement of any songwriter’s career. The simple, bittersweet chorus of “You were always on my mind” is the perfect foil to the triumphant bridge: “I’ve got a new partner writing with me.” It’s a testament to the power of music that such simple words become so transcendent in the setting, but Oldham makes them magical.

VLB shouldn’t need a recommendation, but for anyone out there who’s never heard, it’s a magnificent record with far more layers of beauty than I could ever capture in a short review. For the record, highly recommended.


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