Separately, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Bill Callahan have been responsible for works of astonishing, wounded beauty. Together, the results are rather less spectacular. This collaborative covers effort with a pot pourri of other Drag City artists is another of those twiddling-thumbs-in-lockdown projects we’ve grown used to, and it shows. Over long and under cooked, it’s of curiosity value only.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy has a lot of collaborative form, recording albums with everyone from Tortoise to Trembling Bells, but whereas those artists complemented what he had to offer, Callahan is less of a contrast, leaving us with two downbeat indie heroes fumbling along together, sometimes frustratingly singing over each other in “harmony”.
There are blasts of instrumental inspiration, something to make your ears prick above the melange. There’s the thin, twangy bass on the Hank Williams Jr’s OD’d in Denver.. There’s the soloing on Silver Jews’ Wild Kindness. There’s George Xylouris’ gorgeous laouta playing on Lou Reed’s Rooftop Garden, which would be better were BPB and Callahan replaced by more mood-appropriate singers.
Other songs make your ears prick, but not in a good way. Billie Eilish’s Wish You Were Gay with its auto-tune and semi-rapping is embarrassing once you’re over the amusement value. And far too many songs sound like the roughly assembled sketches they are. I’ve Made Up Your Mind (with Scotland’s own Alasdair Roberts) is overly busy, as if jammed by the folkies from the corner of your local pub. Our Anniversary is a squally mess, an extended jam which Callahan opens with a blast of Que Sera Sera.
Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues loses some of its 70s soft-rock smoothness, and gains nothing in return, although Robert Wyatt’s Sea Song fares better. Its source material is strong enough as to be unbreakable, and the funereal organ adds a nice touch. There’s even something endearing about the shambling kitchen sink instrumental break. It’s one of about half a dozen of the 19 tracks that you’d revisit for interest’s sake, although it too has been covered much more engagingly before (The Unthanks).
As an exercise in keeping them and their labelmates’ creative juices flowing through lockdown, Blind Date Party serves its purpose, but otherwise this indie muzak is an inconsequential addition to both men’s impressive back catalogues.