Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, Bill Callahan

It’s crazy to think that Bill Callahan put out his first Smog album nearly 20 years ago. To say that his records have had a major impact on me over this span of time would be an epically understated understatement. Over the years Callahan’s prolific and meandering vision has provided me with the soundtrack to days both difficult joyous. Smog has always felt alive to me – heartbreaking bitterness and disparity or blooming positivity and inspiration– there is a humanity to Callahan’s moodiness that is impossible to deny.

It’s tough to imagine getting through some of life’s shittier moments without the support of The Doctor Came At Dawn (1996), Wild Love (1995), and Kicking a Couple Around (1996) crackling in the background.

On the flipside, albums like 1999’s Knock, Knock, and Dongs of Sevotion (2000) are a testament to the simple beauty found just around life’s next corner (B-L-double-oh-D-F-L-oh-double-you, BLOODFLOW! BLOODFLOW!).

Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, Bill Callahan’s second album since shedding the Smog moniker is his most ambitious work to date. Populated with all of the Smog mainstays – acoustic guitar, piano, cello and of course Callahan’s amazing deadpan vocals, Eagle’s instrumentation is focused much tighter than previous efforts.

While some may relish an apparent loss of rawness in his new work –Callahan is simply maturing as an artist. The bent unpredictability of the past has given way to purposeful arrangements and elegance.

Sometimes, I Wish We Were an Eagle contains some of the most amazingly understated guitar work I’ve heard in like, forever.

Country infused acoustics lay atop stringed arrangements to create a comfortingly orchestral musical backdrop.

Callahan’s lyrics are accessible – yet delicate and introspective as evidenced in Eagle's opening track "Jim Cain":

I ended up in search of/ordinary things

like how can a wave/ possibly be

I started running/ and the concrete turned to sand

I started running/ and things didn’t pan out as planned

“All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast” is an eastern influenced, dramatic throw back of sorts to the grittiness of Smog’s earlier albums. Lurching drums build below Callahan’s baritone and hints of distortion that recall “When the Power Goes Out” (Julius Caesar, 1993).

Just as the song appears to near full-blown explosion, strings bring ‘er back down to earth and remind us of just how far Mr. Callahan has come.

Originally posted to the KEXP blog.

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