Bill Callahan Keeps His Wits While Forwarding Dream River
Bill Callahan picks his words carefully.
If one thing defines his recent work - pastoral, grooving, and far removed from his noisier days recording under the name Smog - it's the way he selects his words. "The only words I've said today are beer and thank you," he croons on "The Sing," the masterful song that opens his recent masterpiece, Dream River.
"Beer... / Thank you / Beer...
With three words, Callahan paints a sprawling picture.
He achieves with little what other storytellers will fumble with a lot. And even more remarkable: Callahan's words sound right; they feel right, in their syllables and consonants, in the way his thumping baritone weaves its way in between the rocks and cacti.
It's like Beat Poetry with the cinematic scope of a Peckinpah film. Callahan takes pauses, allows the horse's hoofs to clop, as he unhurriedly and methodically selects his next phrase.
Callahan's songs, particularly the ones found on records that bear his Christian name, which he's employed since 2007's Woke on a Whalesong, don't clutter the scene with unnecessary details. They're sparse, but full.
On Dream River, Callahan adorns his lyrics with subtle country rock, lilting folk. There are congas and flutes, and his accompanying musicians, particularly guitarist Matt Kinsey and bassist Jaime Zuverza, both of whom join Callahan on tour, perform like free jazz musicians, seemingly defying the gravity of Callahan's booming voice.