Posts tagged ‘Bill Callahan’
A video for Bill Callahan’s mesmerizing cover of Mickey Newbury’s 1973 song, “Heaven Help the Child”, from the split 7-inch single out now on Drag City. Callahan’s video is all in black-and-white — featuring images of Callahan singing, transposed over a tree and the leaves of a plant. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Music is often a sign of the times. It says something profound about the state of the world when some of 2011’s most well-respected musicians turn their gifts toward describing that indeterminable feeling one gets when humanity seems destined to destroy everything that’s good. PJ Harvey asks “How is our glorious country sown?” in her song “The Glorious Land” — wondering what the heck is happening to the old England she loves. Radiohead’s newest release, “The King of Limbs”, a title with obvious war imagery, is half-strewn with tracks that sound like fairy-tales gone terribly wrong. The world they’re singing about is rushing headlong into the void, expressed in frenetic instrumentation in songs with names like “Feral”. Now, Bill Callahan is echoing similar feelings of unease.
The gorgeous “Baby’s Breath” talks of greed and having to ‘reap what you sow’. Callahan takes Harvey’s disillusionment of country a step further, and with some humor in the track, “America!” It’s a severe missive, sarcastically proclaiming a desire to travel to the “golden” and “grand America” and watch David Letterman on television. It’s a track pointed directly at mythical America. The bullshit America — the one that sits idly by while “the lucky suckle teat” and “others chaw pig knuckle meat.” That piece of lyricism clashes hard-consonants up against each other like a syntactic meat-grinder — just the same way America often chews up and spits out its impoverished.
Callahan doesn’t take his foot off the pedal in this foot-stomping funk-jam. He coaxes, teases and baits, amid his grub-work guitar and gristle-fuzz rhythm. Callahan sings softly but carries a big stick. In fact, he’s downright bludgeoning, listing a litany of American debacles: “Afghanistan! / Vietnam! / Iran! / Native American!” It’s goddamn genius. But he still finds room for humor, enlisting his own army, which consists of artists and musicians he admires: Kris Kristofferson is the captain of this make-believe force, Johnny Cash is its sergeant, Leatherneck Jones and Buck Sergeant Newbury. It’s reminiscent of the revolutionary fun Parliament had on its track, “Chocolate City” — where the group listed the names of artists who would be better suited for positions of government, like Richard Pryor as Minister of Education, Stevie Wonder as Secretary of Fine Arts and Aretha as First Lady.
Bill Callahan has a new record coming out, “Apocalypse”, on April 19 via Drag City. Right now you can listen to and download the first single off the album, “Baby’s Breath” at the label website. It’s a beauty. It’s a Western journey through the desert, with bluesy guitar trailed by Callahan’s deep vocals about trying to cut a clearing amid an unforgiving land. There are images of gardening, a grave, a wedding, and of course baby’s breath, all coming to a head in these gorgeous verses: “It was not a weed / It was a flower / My baby’s gone / Oh, where has my baby gone / She was not a weed / She was a flower / I know, you must reap what you sow, or sing.” Note: Photo from artist’s facebook page. — David D. Robbins Jr.
Bill Callahan “Baby’s Breath”
Bill Callahan (aka Smog) will release his new album “Apocalypse” on April 19 via Drag City, in digital, LP and CD format. It’s Callahan’s first full-length in-studio follow-up since 2009’s “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle”. (In 2010, he released a live album, “Rough Travel for a Rare Thing”.) Different than most PR e-mails, this one came without any text — simply this wanted poster image above. I’m still playing the heck out of Callahan’s string-laden beauty from 2009, “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast”. — David D. Robbins Jr.
BETTER WITH AGE: Bill Callahan, aka Smog, is following up 2009’s “Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle” with a live recording of 11 older songs called “Rough Travel For a Rare Thing”. Callahan has always had a way with words, and this sparse album is a reminder of just what a good songwriter he is. But it’s also not going to be one of those live albums that becomes a classic, or one that shed’s light on something fans didn’t already know about him. For the unfamiliar, Callahan has never been a great singer, but he continues to find emotionally evocative ways to deliver. He generally speaks his lyrics gruffly, but his voice has lately matured into a welcoming wood-rich baritone. Combined with his gift for observation, it’s the pathos of his words that works the magic. “Let me See the Colts” offers some tender western Americana, and lyrics with internal rhyme and a bleak folk-writer’s sensibility: “We walked out through / The dew dappled brambles / And sat upon the fence.”
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