"We're All Looking for a body, or a means to make one sing": Bill Callahan "Dream River" reviewed

9/19/13
8.2ARTIST INFO

We spend entirely too much time trying to explain why we like things, often for reasons that don't make any sense. Our need to explain things, to give a narrative to our life, is a disease. Kill it before it kills you.

For instance, I find myself enthralled with Bill Callahan's new record, Dream River, his fifth under his Christian name, his 18th overall counting all those ones he put out as Smog. I'm not entirely sure why, and the harder I try to come up with a rationale, the more I feel my like for said record dissipating.

This is not an uncommon occurrence for me.

And no, this will not be your typical reviews on music.

 

 

"Small Plane"

My need to explain my enjoyment of Dream River leaves me with a heap of questions to which I have no answer.

A sampling:

- Is he singing or speaking? And why ultimately does that even matter?
- Does Bill Callahan's voice make it seem like the things he's says are more important than the things most of us say, or is that just me?
- Is this a record about Callahan's lucid dreams and dream logic in general, bookended by two songs that take place in the 'awaken' state, or is just the nonsensical ramblings of a guy with a really affective voice?
-I bet Cormac McCarthy digs the shit out of this record. Wait, why do I think I have any insight into the personal tastes of Cormac McCarthy?
- Why the fuck can't I find any streams or embeds of this record to share with our dear readers?

I've made almost no ground on any of these questions. Except the last one. The only way either Callahan or his label, Drag City, want you to hear his music is if you first purchase it.

***

"I've got limitations like Marvin Gay. Mortal joy is just that way." - Bill Callahan "The Sing"

***

What makes Dream River, and to a certain extend all of Callahan's music, so often unapproachable is that you can't help but shake the feeling that he's fucking with you the entire time. He has a penchant for phrasing his lyrics in such a way as to make you misinterpret them. Or he'll simply add musical breaks in the middle of sentences, giving various lines multiple meanings per song, as he does to perfection on "The Sing" and "Winter Road," two of the album's stronger tracks and its opener and closer, respectively. Callahan's love for deadpans and dry sense of humor add to this suspicion. 

All in all, Dream River is a terrific little folk record. It's a minimalist affair, as most tracks are just Callahan's voice and guitar, flanked by a flute and fiddle. I can't recall any percussion, aside from a sparingly used snare. My need to explain why I like it won't add to my enjoyment of it. Perhaps I need to heed the advice of Dream River's closing lines:

"I have learned when things are beautiful to just keep on. Just keep on."

If I had any way to play you this song, you would understand that this line works much better when sung. Particularly when it's song by Bill Callahan.

***

Dream River Tracklist

1. The Sing
2. Javelin Unlanding
3. Small Plane
4. Spring
5. Ride My Arrow
6. Summer Painter
7. Seagull
8. Winter Road

Album: