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BILL CALLAHAN

Bill Callahan

Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest

As you listen to Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest, a feeling of totality, of completeness, steals over you, like a thief in broad daylight. Of course it does – you’re listening to a new Bill Callahan record! The first one in almost six years! What more do you need to complete you?

Or perhaps, after all the time, the obvious needs to be made just a little more explicit?

First, it’s a different kind of record. Bill’s now writing from somewhere beyond his Eagle-Apocalypse-River headspace, and Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest is very much its own beast. The songs are, by and large, shorter, and there are more of them. It took almost all of the previous three albums to add up to that many. Plus, twenty’s a lot of songs! But again, it goes a lot deeper than that.

After Dream River, Bill’s life went through some changes. Good changes – marriage and a kid - but afterwards, it was suddenly harder for him to find the place where the songs came, to make him and these new experiences over again into something to sing. His songs have always been elusive, landing lightly between character study and autobiography, as the singer-songwriter often does. This felt different, though. After 20 years of putting music first, he wasn’t prepared to go away from it completely. Or was he? The lives of a newlywed, a new parent, they have so much in them – but writing and singing, it was his old friend that had helped him along to this place where he’d so happily arrived. Was there room for everybody? While sorting it all out, he worked on songs every day – which meant that for a while, there were lots of days simply confronting the void, as he measured this new life against the ones he’d previously known.

It informed the shape of the album. Moving gradually from reflections upon the old days in “Ballad of The Hulk” and “Young Icarus” to the immediacy of the present moment in “Watching Me Get Married” and “Son of the Sea”, Bill traces the different life lines, casually unwinding knotty contradictions and ambiguities with an arresting stillness. The sense of a life thunderstruck by change infuses Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest– the songs wander from expressions of newfound joy and great contentment to other snapshots, considerations of the not-joy that we all know. Unsettling dream-images and mythic recollections are patiently received; the undertow of the past is resisted, pulling against it instead into the present, accepting revolutions of time and the unconscious as a natural flow.

These transcendent expressions are wedded translucently to the music. Acknowledging the uncertainty in which the songs were assembled, Bill went to the studio alone, unsure if he could find what he was looking for with a band riding along – because who knew how long it would take? This allowed the fluidity of his song-thoughts to be laid down with the right feeling. Once there was guitar and vocals, the other parts came. Matt Kinsey’s guitar partnership is an essential relationship within the music, as is Brian Beattie’s acoustic bass – but also, Bill found himself overdubbing parts himself for the first time in many years, which lent the songs an episodic drift, as if he’s passing through rooms while singing.

In it’s final mix, Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest glows incandescent – an entirely acoustic arrangement, sounds and stories shifting seamlessly, almost like one big song made of a bunch of new stories – the kind that only Bill Callahan thinks to sing.

It’s a joy to hear from this old friend – informing all the lives that we’ve led in the hearing. Good listeners and tired dancers, sing along.

STAFF COMMENTS

Barry says: Say what you will about Bill, but he sure knows how to keep writing the tunes doesn't he? A beautiful mix of brittle jazzy progressions, flickering percussion and swooning syncopated (but never jarring) melodic counterpoint show exactly why big Billy is still so present in our record collections and our hearts.

Bill Callahan

Live At Third Man Records

    Bill Callahan, fka Smog, is simultaneously a staple of strange American country, lo-fi, folk and independent music. His lyricism comes across as challenging and deeply autobiographical, equal parts "poetry leaning on true-to-life darkness" and "three chords and the truth."

    So, it is fitting that Callahan’s live set would command the same sense of friendliness-with-difficulty that the recorded songs do. With brief, candid, and charming interludes between older and newer material, an outsider can hear that this performance was obviously a full-bodied (and multi-era) engagement, no space left for distraction.

    The full album is an experience; make it one you look after. 

    Dub is a spiritual, abstract, visceral, mystical thing. Finite and infinite at the same time. Deeply rooted in the earth and embracing outer space. Don’t be fooled by names, dub has come and gone. Dub is a ghost, a duppy.

    Here you will find versions of the ‘Dream River’ songs that have been killed and resurrected, spilling tales of the other side of life in a language conceivable only if you let yourself be taken there.

    Introducing a worldwide audience to the bumpin’ and rollin’ new sound of Bill Callahan.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Andy says: If you loved last year's parent album as much as we did at Piccadilly, you'll think you've died and gone to heaven when you hear this blissed-out dub version. Totally gorgeous!

    In the song world of Bill Callahan, the present realities tumble ecstatically like cloth in the wind - sheets and flags and clothes. These things borne aloft are not simply physical details in the landscape, but the contours of an emotional one as well. Bill’s a cartographer way out there, tracing the coastlines, telling the tales he has discovered along the way. Some seen in life and others in mind’s eye, they float down ‘Dream River’ with humble eminence.

    The river that was once deemed not too much to love, that once freed convicts and their guard in a still and silent moment, is now a ‘Dream River’, fished in a variety of depths, viewed in panorama. This is a waterway that winds across the landmass, a ribbon that touches and changes and feeds and gives to and takes from many lives as it rolls to the ocean.

    Dialed into the mindset, the ‘Dream River’ instrumental crew man a hovercraft that bears the songs along, humming deeply with bass and percolating with the abiding resonance of hands drumming on skins, the lively popping of claves. Guitar strums fan into blooms of smoke, sliced through by other guitars taking other forms - shards of mirrors, plumes of ignition, telephone wires, snakes and ladders plunging through the depths of the sky. The musical modes are exquisite, aquatic; shifting in delicate but deliberate undetectable time as Bill’s lyrics wander from yard to yard.

    ‘Dream River’ is the fourth studio album from Bill Callahan, following the sweet devastation of ‘Apocalypse’.

    STAFF COMMENTS

    Patrick says: It's easy to paint Bill Callahan as a world weary traveller. After all, he's fourteen albums into a twenty year career, deadpans with the best of them and has been known to dwell on death and destruction more than a Scandinavian drama. His last offering, 2011's ‘Apocalypse’ sees two protagonists meet their maker before side-B is through, amongst a general discourse on devastation and despair. But if ‘Apocalypse’ was the storm sent to purge the earth, then ‘Dream River’ is the verdant calm that follows. Bill has always explored natural themes, even back in his days as a lo-fi auteur, and on this album they abound. As ever water is the most prominent motif, whether it be a river, ocean or rain, with Bill's warm baritone deep enough to drown in. Elsewhere, flight is the focus as arrows, javelins and seagulls all soar through clear skies adding to the lightness of what is certainly Callahan's most uplifting album to date. But what is most striking about ‘Dream River’ is the happy marriage of Callahan's trademark Americana with soul. Aside from the lyrical nod to Marvin Gaye and Bill's Callier register, the congas and claves of Thor Harris lend a temperate groove to proceedings, while Beth Galiger's flute doffs it's beret towards Brian Jackson, inspired by Gil Scott-Heron covering ‘I'm New Here’. Once again the excellent Matt Kinsey returns to add his psychedelic guitar to the record, magnifying the transportative qualities of "Summer Painter" and "Javelin Unlanding". ‘Dream River’ sees a mature Callahan at his best casting a musical spell that only breaks when the needle hits the centre.

    Essentially an ensemble recorded live in the studio, Bill Callahan’s "Apocalypse" is the corpus delecti. Something happened here. If tape is like meat, this record is the whole hog - no cuts.

    Callahan, riding on the back of his band, corrals them all and guides them single-handedly with love and ferocity.

    Bill Callahan is a recording studio guru, a tastefully rampant singer-songwriter, a heartthrob, a visual artist, a statesman for the times and an author. His songs have been featured in films such as "High Fidelity", "Dead Man’s Shoes", and "Youth In Revolt". Artists as diverse as Gil Scott-Heron, Flaming Lips and Cat Power have recorded his songs.

    Unfolding like a first view of paradise, then a slightly less ecstatic second view of paradise, and then finally a glance back over your shoulder at that ridiculous notion of paradise, "Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle" is awfully pretty — something's clearly making Bill Callahan feel like a natural man. And high in the saddle, with nine sweet new tunes in tow, he's riding herd over a diverse bunch of sounds by top-notch players. Arranger Brian Beattie brought some old friends back into the picture: violins and French horns. Plus, recording in the big state of Texas has given Bill Callahan a panoramic soundscreen, filled with verdant and sparkling sounds, all of which allow him access to the depths of expression, allowing a gentle and stirring view of that which we call 'soul'. Singing as personally as ever while still spinning wild yarns and melodic guitar fictions, Bill Callahan's on an idyll we hope won't ever end.

    Tracklisting
    1. Jim Cain
    2. Eid Ma Clack Shaw
    3. The Wind And The Dove
    4. Rococo Zephyr
    5. Too Many Birds
    6. My Friend
    7. All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast
    8. Invocation Of Ratiocination
    9. Faith/Void

    Whereas the last (Smog) LP was steeped in lo-fi country, Bill Callahan steps out from that beloved moniker to deliver his most accessible record yet. An aesthetic shift is apparent with the polished sophistication of "Diamond Dancer", an irresistible groove featuring funk basslines and raggedy fiddle floating above a gospel chorus of female backing vocalists. Callahan's unmistakable voice and poetic lyrics are as unique as ever, tracing the timeless connections between romance and sense of place like only he can. However, whilst the R'n'B rhythms and Motown string arrangements glitter on this album, Callahan hasn't abandoned his love of country, as evinced by "A Man Needs A Woman Or A Man To Be A Man". Evoking the maverick spirit of both Neil Young and now Paul Simon, Callahan confidently stretches the canvas of his already colourful tapestry.


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