Bill Callahan is a rapper. Okay, not really, but kindasorta. I heard about Mr. Callahan from my man at Stranger Dance (which I recently blogrolled because it’s an excellent site), who picked “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle” as one of the top 20 albums of 2009 so far. Lots of his picks were ones I also dig–although there was surprisingly no cross over between his list and mine–such as AC Newman, Passion Pit, Madlib, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And I’ll forgive him for including Asher Roth. (Query: If you have 20 albums already, plus a slew of honorable mentions, what isn’t in the best of?) So, based on the strength of his list and his past reviews, I went and scooped this album up from my favorite local record store.
I’d always thought Callahan was country-folker, and I guess he is in a way, but he doesn’t really croon or sing–or rarely even tries to. He speaks, in a rich voice, with occasional inflection and melody, and waxes philosophically about his world. His songs feature obscure, beautiful thoughts like, “I am a child of linger on/I peer through the window gone,” and “I dreamed it was a dream that you were gone/I woke up feeling so ripped by reality/Love is the king of the beasts/And when it gets hungry it must kill to eat.” Musically, the album is delicate and provocative without being terribly complex. There’s guitar and cello, all soft instruments that add mood without distracting from the man’s seriously intoned ponderings and ruminations. And then there’s “Invocation Of Ratiocination,” an instrumental with an impenetrable title that is, I must admit, pretty darn cool.
I can’t say the album is flawless. Callahan is more compelling when the music behind him is upbeat, such as on “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” and “The Wind and the Dove,” and his singular delivery can at times be soporific, but on the whole this album is more about mood than melody, and emphasizes lyrical content over guitar solos or extended musical interludes.
Just like most good hip hop.
See, I told you he was a rapper.