Review : Bill Callahan - 'Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle' (Drag City)
SpinBill Callahan spent his first post-Smog disc -- 2007's Woke on a Whaleheart -- kicking too gaily against his downcast past, exploring looser sounds that didn't take. On this follow-up, he finds steadier, more familiar footing while still allowing for evolution: "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" cracks funnier and jauntier than Smog's early years would've allowed, but like most of Eagle, it's a natural progression rather than change for its own sake. More important, on bookends "Jim Cain" and the string-enhanced "Faith/Void," Callahan allows simple, graceful melancholy -- his strongest suit -- back into the mix....full text
Drownedinsound.There are certain holy cows of American Indie that can be guaranteed to get, at worst, good reviews for their records. Will Oldham is one (with exceptions), the Silver Jews were, until their recent disbandment, another. You can probably add Bill Callahan to that list as well. In his former incarnation as Smog, and his recent rebirth as just plain ol’ Bill, he released a unbroken string of beautiful albums, from the sombre confidence of Knock Knock, to Supper’s hope-filled folk, to A River Ain’t Too Much Too Love’s downright profundity. His records have, no matter their disparate content or themes, been held together by that inimitable voice; part Johnny Cash baritone swagger, part Lou Reed halting witticism, frail and confident at once.
2007’s Woke On A Whaleheart was his first record without the Smog moniker; perhaps dropping the name allowed Callahan to break free from the preconception of what a Callahan/Smog album should sound like. …Whaleheart, with it’s gospel-tinged vocals and bold instrumentation certainly sounded different to anything Callahan had previously released. To that extent Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle seems like a return to older pastures – Callahan’s vocals again dominate, the production is more intimate, the songs themselves are again driven forward by the self-same rhythmic percussion and simple guitar riffs that became Callahan’s signature style over the last decade....full text
UncutAs it is with his old friend Will Oldham, hunting for clues about Bill Callahan’s state of mind in his songs can be something of a doomed mission. Nevertheless, among all the equine and river metaphors, the unreliable narrators, the droll misanthropy, the unlikely romance of his later records, an irresistible line occasionally springs out. On 2005’s A River Ain’t Too Much To Love, when Callahan still traded under the name of Smog, it came in the penultimate song, “I’m New Here”. “I told her I was hard to get to know,” he adjudged, in his usual uncanny baritone, “and near impossible to forget.”
Plenty who have lived with Callahan’s work over the past 15 or 20 years will be tempted to agree. Again like Oldham, his career represents a quixotic, restless and probably somewhat perverse re-think of the vintage singer-songwriter model. Over 13 albums, he has moved from fractious lo-fi experiments (Sewn To The Sky, Julius Caesar), through spare and unnerving folk (The Doctor Came At Dawn) and chamber pop (1999’s exceptional Knock Knock), on into unforgiving Lou Reed territory (Rain On Lens) in the early part of this century.
Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle begins with a song called “Jim Cain”, ostensibly about The Postman Always Rings Twice author James M Cain, in which Callahan wryly addresses his own public persona. “I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again,” he intones, as a string section manoeuvres gracefully around him.
Certainly, 2007’s Woke On A Whaleheart found Callahan in an uncommonly cheerful mood – or at least assuming the voice of better-adjusted protagonists than usual. …Whaleheart was a mixed and often tender bag, with twinkling pop songs and jovial country lopes. An accompanying photo, by Callahan’s then-girlfriend Joanna Newsom, even saw a new look for this enigmatic shape-shifter. Weirdly, he was smiling....full text
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