Bill Callahan & Bonnie Prince Billy: Blind Date Party review – revelatory fun with old favourites

(Drag City)
The left-field giants are full of surprises on an electrifying set of covers of everyone from Steely Dan to Silver Jews

During lockdown, these two titans of left-field US songcraft collaborated remotely with a vast roll call of other musicians, recording cover versions by fellow masters (Leonard Cohen, Yusuf Islam) as well as their labelmates. A smattering of reworked originals includes electrifying takes on Callahan’s Our Anniversary and Oldham’s Arise, Therefore; the talents involved range from Cretan lute player George Xylouris to Australian guitarist Mick Turner (Dirty Three). The majority of these 19 tracks are loose online; Blind Date Party corrals them for the artefact buyer.

The voices of Callahan and Oldham provide a through line in what can occasionally be unexpected stylistic forays. Least best is a version of Billie Eilish’s Wish You Were Gay: High Llama Sean O’Hagan’s flippant, tinny beats point to a grave generational misunderstanding of digital pop. But almost everything else succeeds in having revelatory fun with old favourites or hitting the listener hard– or both. There are country songs about cocaine, and a loose take on Steely Dan, the tightest of bands. A chorus of dozens contributes to a moving cover of a Silver Jews song guided by the late David Berman’s partner and bandmate Cassie Berman.