Any male whose voice dropped to Barry White frequency levels after puberty should appreciate Bill Callahan’s low croon, a modest and complacent baritone which stands behind Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, an album comprised of engaging tempos, purposeful orchestration and sagacious guitar lines.
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Label: DRAG CITY
Any male whose voice dropped to Barry White frequency levels after puberty should appreciate Bill Callahan’s low croon, a modest and complacent baritone which stands behind Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, an album comprised of engaging tempos, purposeful orchestration and sagacious guitar lines. Like his contemporary Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, Callahan’s tracks pay homage to the speak-singing of Leonard Cohen. However, Eagle‘s ingenuity also stems from Callahan’s backup band (primarily Callahan’s old band: Smog) and their emphasis on timing and beats differs from the more ethereal, legato nature of Cohen’s works. For instance, drums and bass (the two instruments Callahan does not play on this release) set a specific tone on “My Friend,” where Callahan chants the song’s title grittily like Tony Montana from Scarface amid an upbeat, metronomic rhythm section that resembles Dream Theater or Mannheim Steamroller. On “Too Many Birds,” the band eventually builds up to a moment of ‘70s piano-pop bliss when it seemingly imitates Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.”
Callahan’s lyrics, in combination with his deep delivery, often engage the listener in some sort of word game, comparable to a Stephen Wright one-liner (see: the Callahan album Dongs of Sevotion). For instance, his pun in “Rococo Zephyr” goes: “I once was sort of lost/but now can sort of see,” updating “Amazing Grace” to say he sort of experiences Grace (or maybe he’s saying Grace is sort of Amazing). On the track “Too Many Birds,” Callahan again confuses a timeworn phrase, humming: “Too many birds/In one tree,” effectively robbing the bird in the hand of its long held, safe probability. One figures that Callahan dislikes clichés (like any basic artist) but he’s not at war with them.
Callahan’s capacity for darkness and brooding also emerges on this release. The gloomily melodic track “The Wind and the Dove” contains the lyrics “Somewhere in between…the wind and the dove/lies all I sought in you.” On the album’s closer, an existential hymn called “Faith/Void,” Callahan sings the verse, “It’s time to put God away” over and over before claiming in the bridge that “This is the end of faith/No more must I strive to find my peace;” bleak words indeed. However the track’s chorus features a joyous, sun-soaked, psychedelic guitar lick which invokes upon the listener the soul-satisfying sounds of Shuggie Otis. Who says atheists ain’t got no soul?