Will Oldham's time as Bonnie "Prince" Billy has been overwhelmingly fruitful, but even amid that strong back catalogue, Beware stands out as one of his fullest, most complete works. On previous records, Oldham would use sparse, spacious arrangements to create a feeling of eerie portent in his music. Beware abhors empty space, cramming every last second with rich, lustrous sound.
Oldham and his band have chased away the ghosts with a joyous, clattering din of choral singing, bright melodies, and soaring arrangements. "Beware Your Only Friend" sets the mood with a happy give-and-take between the sardonic Prince and his back-up choir, which doesn't merely echo his words but expands upon them with grace and texture.
Beware also recalls the Nashville-recorded Sings Greatest Palace Music of 2004. That album was more of a conceptual lark, however; this one absorbs elements of C&W into Oldham's existing folk sound in a tasteful, less provocative way. The slippery fiddle that introduces "I Won't Ask Again" works its way right into the heart; "I Don't Belong to Anyone" follows in the style of singing cowboys like Gene Autry, a clip-clop rhythm draped in the sharp yet melancholy strains of pedal-steel guitar. "I Am Goodbye" is a plucky, vivacious sing-along that brims with shouty energy, burning itself out after just two minutes. Beware emulates and elaborates on the familiar, and Oldham's strengths as a songwriter and bandleader shape the album into something beautiful.