Will Oldham has arrived. Those who think he’s already here number many, but their ranks will likely swell with this release. Where Palace records once were exercises in style rather than substance, Viva Last Blues is a substantive landmark in a style Oldham is fast making his own.
Oldham is growing into himself as a singer, songwriter and arranger. Whereas Palace music always has been an exercise in capturing a feel, Viva Last Blues is all about capturing songs. A full, seemingly steady band, including Sebadoh bassist Jason Loewenstein on drums, and more
advanced recording techniques both benefit this record. Steve Albini
recorded Viva Last Blues, but short of making sure all the knobs were in the right place, he seems to have done little, to his credit.
Palace rocks with wild abandon on “Work Hard/Play Hard”, a raving rocker that finds the band, dare it be said, swinging? That’s followed by “New Partner”, a song best described as pretty, as Oldham quietly intones, “You are always on my mind.” The warble in his voice is now an occasional affectation rather than the norm, and he sings with a full, strong voice, hitting notes he never attempted on previous releases.
This continues the steady rise in quality of Palace releases that began with last year’s Hope EP. What was once perhaps little more than an interesting experiment has blossomed into a legitimate and unique musical force.