Bonnie Prince Billy and Matt Sweeney

On this superb collaboration, Matt Sweeney and Will Oldham (aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy) play ballads with the intimacy of bunkmates, conjuring a parched farm where panther-girls and man-donkeys toil, love and spank one another. The sweet, absurd imagery would sound cloying in most hands, but Oldham's un-self-conscious delivery makes his scenes as plain as distressed leather, and Sweeney (of Chavez and Zwan) is the perfect co-worker, adding fragile harmonies and a guitar that props up the melodies like a fence post. The spare but kind tone suggests a melding of English folk with the grit of American country, and while the album is never far from desolation--as on the grueling "Blood Embrace"--its best moments are the most graceful, like "Beast for Thee," which is ready to pat your neck as you die in its arms.