Wednesday, 3 August 2011

26. Bill Callahan - Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

Bill Callahan sounds like a man who's seen things. A dead horse on a highway. A trailer park fire in Wyoming. A man shot in the leg over a woman. You know, that sort of thing. He also sounds like the kind of man who would get dumped by a woman, not say a word to anyone, and then five years later write an album about it. A real man, if you like. He does, occasionally, give off the air of being a serial killer, but we'll let that go because of the voice. I knew that a lot of his earlier records as Smog were lo-fi and self recorded, so I presumed that he would be a wobbly, half-singer like Mark Linkous or Stephen Malkmus (both of who are great singers in their own way). I assumed he was a shy indie kid, hiding his voice behind scruffy attitude. So when the beautiful, restrained, Jim Cain crept out of the speakers and his voice hit, singing the lines: I started off in search of ordinary things, How much of a tree bends in the wind, it fairly knocked me sideways. Here was this deep, resonant voice, singing a gorgeously produced, stately song. It didn't sound like the king of lo-fi at all, it wasn't what I expected, which is a good thing. It's good to be surprised by music, it keeps you on your toes, stops you making stupid presumptions drawn from articles read in Melody Maker sixteen years ago. God I miss Melody Maker...

What sets Callahan apart from many singer-songwriters is his restraint. He writes wonderfully direct songs, but even at the most intimate moments you feel he is keeping the listener at bay a little. There is a real mystery within these songs, a distance in the delivery. And without wanting to sound like an old bastard, it makes a refreshing change in these days, when we share almost everything with anyone, it sets him apart. You get the feeling he has to write and record these songs, but does he actually want to? I'm not so sure.

I have to mention the production. How can a man who has sold as few records as Bill Callahan record such an expensive sounding album? Particularly in an age where nobody pays for music. Who paid to record this album? Well, I'm grateful that they did. And hope they keep coughing up the cash so we get more music like this.

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