by Philip Moss
When Will Oldham last released an album of original songs, it would have taken remarkable clairvoyance to envisage the world to which he would release the next. Eight years on comes I Made A Place – a collection of songs that matches the very best of his output to date.
One of Oldham’s many projects in the intervening years was Best Troubadour – a fine reimagining of a selection of Merle Haggard’s back catalogue, and its spirited vibe seems has seeped in here; New Memory Box and The Devil’s Throat are rollickingly good, and show off new guitarist, Nathan Salsburg, as well as the fine harmonies of backing vocalist, Joan Shelley. While single, Squid Eye, is as throwaway as it is brilliant – with a chorus that’s totally inescapable.
On a collection full of brilliance, the finest moments here come back to back. Look Backward on Your Future, Look Forward on Your Past is, for Oldham, unusually a third person narrative – telling the tale of Richard and an occurrence that makes his outlook on life change. I Have Made a Place features an arrangement unlike anything else in the Oldham canon – its beautiful production venturing into a glorious psych middle eight.
As dealt with by his contemporary – Bill Callahan, on recent outing Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest – Oldham displays a contentment following his recent marriage and at becoming a father. With much of the record’s second half feeling more contemplative, You Know The One celebrates these very moments. Largely hanging upon stripped back arrangements and his worldy wise voice, songs such as This is Far from Over and Mama Mama could be standards.
So despite the wider world becoming ever stranger, twenty five plus years into his career, Oldham is still writing very, very special songs that focus closer to home. The choice to leave out the two lead singles (In Good Faith and At The Back of the Pit) seems an odd one – such is their quality. But, remarkably, it’s still an LP that would provide a perfect starting point for new fans to his wonderful back catalogue, while, for obsessives, being yet another essential addition to the collection.
Secret Meeting score: 86