Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” Oldham has a habit of materializing in interesting places: behind the camera, shooting the cover of Slint’s Spiderland; behind Johnny Cash, singing background vocals on the Man in Black’s cover of his song, “I See A Darkness”; on a tractor in an alternate Kanye West video; in films as quiet and nuanced as Old Joy and in movies like Jackass 3D, which is as subtle as a film called Jackass 3D can be.
Epic Jammers and Fortunate Ditties, Oldham’s new collaborative album with Chicago new age/minimalist outfit Bitchin Bajas isn’t an entirely surprising affair — they share a label, Drag City, and a similarly intuitive approach to folk art — but like those aforementioned instances, his appearance on the LP feels serendipitous and magical. To paraphrase Aquarium Drunkard contributor Tyler Wilcox, the combination of Bonnie and the Bajas sounds like a cult we might be willing to join.
“When I listen to their records and tapes, it’s that great thing that you end up having with music you feel a deep connection with: it feels tasty and familiar, like it’s somehow already a part of you,” Oldham says of the Bitchin Bajas via Skype.
Last year, Oldham invited the band along for a tour of the Midwest. Following the shows, conversation turned to a potential collaboration.
“We got along beyond levels of just simple conversation,” Oldham says. “We got along in practice and aesthetically…the natural progression from there was how we might apply our musical ideas into a shared concept.”
Recorded live with the Bajas (Cooper Crain, Dan Quinlivan, and Rob Frye) at Oldham’s space in Louisville, Kentucky, with additional recordings and revisions in Chicago, Epic Jammers is the result of that shared concept. Bonnie slides right into the group’s celestial drones and cosmic, contemplative tapestries — the long, blissful moments recall the meditations of Laraaji or the peacefulness of Popol Vuh.