In the ever-complex flowchart to successful rock stardom, there’s an often overlooked command that has been underutilized until recently. Just after the command that instructs you to start a side project or quit your marginally successful band for a new solo project, there’s a little door that can temporarily take you out of the recording/touring cycle and into a new level of acclaim. Although it’s rarely suggested and has been known to alienate some fans, the “collaboration” command, when used correctly, can add a new layer of depth to an artist’s career.
In the case of Will Oldham and Tortoise, the collaboration proved highly successful last year. Superwolf, Oldham’s release under his current moniker, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, with Matt Sweeney, was regarded as one of the top albums of the year. Tortoise spent the latter part of 2005 winning over a new audience by backing famed musician/producer Daniel Lanois, who used the band to fill out his live sets for his ’05 album, Belladonna. In keeping with the party, Oldham and Tortoise waited until nobody was looking and crawled into the closest available room to spawn a set of ten songs that would start the new year off on a good foot and keep their names atop the discussion among swinging music circles.
The idea for The Brave and the Bold was first brought to life by a simple request by Howard Greynolds (owner of Overcoat Recordings and the same panderer who put Calexico and Iron & Wine in bed together) for Oldham to record his then live coverings of Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” What started out with the intentions of being a seven-inch single – with “Thunder Road” as the A-side and a cover of Elton John’s “Daniel” as the flipside – quickly spun into a full-fledged project. Sessions were booked, deals where done and eight more songs were carefully selected to fully embody the concept.
The result is an album that quietly creeps into the back of your skull. The music varies from haunting to psychedelic to playful, but what else would you expect from Tortoise? At first Oldham’s voice seems a bit mismatched with Tortoise’s broken-down electric style, but once you get caught up in the album’s concept, the change of musical venue for Oldham’s voice becomes welcoming. Together Tortoise and Oldham have created a fluid avenue for a set of completely different songs to move together. Songs such as the Minutemen’s “It’s Expected I’m Gone” and Lungfish’s “Love Is Love” would seem completely out of place alongside songs from Bruce Springsteen, Elton John or Richard Thompson if it weren’t for all the artists here owning the sound and injecting every ounce of their patented style into the tracks.
No matter how you cut it, The Brave and the Bold is a cover album, and that will always make it somewhat of a novelty. Chances are that these groups share common fans, so this shouldn’t make much of a difference. Still, a major element – songwriting – is slightly neglected. But The Brave and the Bold represents a solid collaboration project between two prolific and genre-defining musicians, and this is a solid listen regardless of whether or not it’s breaking any new ground. And on top of that, The Brave and the Bold shows that “collaboration” isn’t a dirty word.
“Cravo e Canela” sample