Will Oldham is one of modern music’s most focused and astute singers. The crevices and knots, peaks and valleys of his voice are deeply suggestive, giving listeners clues that the words themselves sometimes omit. A masterful bandleader and eager collaborator, he excels at putting that voice in revelatory contexts. At Baldwin Auditorium, Oldham — who has long avoided the typical cycle of club tours, despite high demand — plays a rare full-band set, tapping into the riches of his deep and varied repertoire. As he says, “Building a song and putting it through its paces, through the necessary stages of writing, recording, and performing, we are trying to get the song into its ultimate capacity: being a remembered and integrated song.” During the last quarter-century, few American singer-songwriters have inspired as much awe or intrigue as Will Oldham, best known as Bonnie “Prince” Billy.
In the mid-nineties, Oldham emerged from Kentucky’s thriving indie rock subculture with a voice and sensibility that seemed as old and as distinctive as the state’s knobby mountains and deep caverns. On songs that documented and questioned the story of human existence, Oldham’s country tenor wavered through an admixture of hurt and hope, cracking beneath the strain of experience. By lacing the folk storytelling of his native state with the more abstract inclinations of his modern peers, Oldham has happily crept along the border between the accessible and abstruse, like a traditional balladeer with a philosophy degree and a love of dark humor. As prolific as he is profound, Oldham has covered Merle Haggard, been covered by Johnny Cash, and collaborated with Eighth Blackbird on a song cycle that mesmerized a Duke Performances audience in 2017. He is one of the most engaged, engaging singers and songwriters of his generation. In Durham, the typically enigmatic Oldham steps into the spotlight as he never has. During a three-day residency, he dissects his approach to songwriting, explores the ideas and techniques behind his recordings, and concludes with a full-length concert in the acoustically brilliant Baldwin Auditorium.