Will Oldham (aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy) is something of a rapscallion. The Louisville native has been on the scene for more than three decades now, yielding an artistic legacy both voluminous and committed (some might say mannered). His work as a singer-songwriter — initially through the 1990s outfit Palace Music, followed by multifarious projects since — leans toward the gothic.
Oldham plays up his would-be Appalachian credentials by conjuring elemental themes via lyrics that can be direct one minute, obtuse the next. His fragile, ennui-riddled voice certainly sets a mood, and his sporadic work as a movie actor in sideways indies like Julien Donkey-Boy, Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and A Ghost Story have only added to his prickly, rough-hewn presence.
Matt Sweeney is the opposite. The New Jersey native is an easygoing magpie, an ace guitarist who is as happy delving into mathy riffage (via his 1990s outfit Chavez) as he is the moody atmospherics of his collaborations with Oldham, which include a 2005 self-titled album called Superwolf and its long-simmering follow-up, 2021’s Superwolves.
“It’s a given collaborator’s uniqueness that makes joining forces feel necessary in the first place,” Oldham said in an interview with Stereogum last April. “There are ways that Sweeney thinks and works, music that he loves and audiences that he reaches, that I could never grasp on my own. And that’s the same for all of the successful collaborations I’ve been a part of. The other party must be similarly needy and drawn to the idea of co-owning the task.”
The duo’s songwriting process starts with Oldham’s lyrics, which he sends to Sweeney for musical treatment.
Sixteen years in the making, the results on Superwolves are beautiful and haunting – 14 songs over 45 minutes that delve into the realities of parenthood (Oldham became a dad for the first time in 2018) and the perils and glories of aging (both guys have now passed age 50).
The galloping “Hall of Death,” which features mesmerizing arpeggio work from Sweeney, is about as upbeat as they get. The sparse and evocative “My Popsicle” brings to mind early Cat Power. Perhaps best of all is album closer “Not Fooling,” a spooky and poetic ode to the apocalypse as Oldham’s world-weary croon and mystical lyrics intertwine with Sweeney’s intricate guitar work to moving effect.
Thursday, Feb. 24 at the Southgate House Revival (111 E. Sixth St., Newport). Doors are 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Masks are recommended, but not required. More info and tickets: southgatehouse.com.