Bill Callahan – Dream River (Drag City)

Chances are many people have never associated Bill Callahan with soul music. There was always plenty of soul in his music of course but it was usually disguised within strains of what is generally called Americana (isn’t soul American too?) – country and folk. On this, his fifth album under his own name (18th when you count Smog), his wry, blackly comic observations are set against the funk.

There are bongos and dub echo on ‘Javelin unlanding’ alone. Perhaps he’s just given into a longstanding urge. As if to signal his intentions in fact, the first song ‘The sing’ namechecks Marvin Gaye – “I’ve got limitations, like Marvin Gaye” - although perversely that arrangement is wrapped in a very country confection of fiddle and sumptuous low note electric guitar. Still, it is some kind of signpost.

To ‘Spring’, with an ensemble of flute, bongos and authentic blues guitar, which culminates in the fervent line – “all I want to do is make love to you, in the fertile dirt with a careless mind.” You are there with Bill as the guitar riffs burn, shakers adding to the restless passion.

And ‘Ride my arrow’ which has some sultry wah wah guitar and organ stabs worthy of a blaxploitation soundtrack.

In some hands this combination might have turned into something laughable and ridiculous; against the canvas of Bill’s soul-reaching baritone and world-philosophical words, the results are profound, touching and (at the risk of using a much overused word) true.

Another classic in the Callahan canon.


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