Bill Callahan Gold Record“Hello I’m Johnny Cash” sings Bill Callahan as the opening line on ‘Pigeons’ the first track on his new album ‘Gold Record’. Perhaps a cheeky nod to those who have noted that over the years Bill Callahan has slowly transitioned from indie rock quirkiness with his Smog output into  more mellowed, yet no less acerbic, americana style tunes of recent years. Or it could just be a cheeky reference to one of his heroes, either way, those dulcet vocal tones of Callahan’s are a joy to hear again. He has one of the most relaxing voices around, they should prescribe this album on anger management classes, and to our world leaders, world peace would surely result! Mellow doesn’t do it justice.

Whilst he may ooze soothing vocal tones, Callahan’s lyrics these days deal with family life in all its glorious and often unhinged way, delivered with the sage old knowledge of someone who understands the ups and downs of everyday domesticity, yet manages to inject it with a thought, an opinion or observation you’ve never realized you had to reckon with before. 

Callahan’s songs transport you to the great U.S. wilderness, deserts, fields, mountains and beyond – you could almost be on a porch somewhere in a rocking chair, glass of whisky in hand, watching the sunset cast shadows over the landscape,

Most of the album is just Callahan and his guitar, with minimal other accompaniment, the hushed brush of a drum here and another slide guitar thee. ‘35’ is one of the liveliest tracks with Callahan reflecting on his sense of disconnection from his younger self “I can’t see myself in the books I read these days, Used to be I saw myself on every single page” he muses. “Protest Song” proves that you don’t have to create a hellstorm of noise to get your point across, and his humorous reaction to watching someone on TV cuts right to the bone, “Somebody must stop these boys, they’re messing with a man’s toys” before adding “I protest, his protest song, I’d vote for Satan if he said it was wrong” proving that Callahan has always had a snarling bite to his humorous side.

Callahan has one of those soothing voices that you can’t help but listen to, even when he’s putting the world to rights as he often does throughout the album, it’s done in such a relaxing way, you can’t help but agree with him. Having been a fan since his earliest 90’s incarnation as Smog, that lackadaisical vocal tone, the simplicity in  his melodies have always been like a big hug on a shitty day, and quite frankly, we could all do with one of those. ‘Gold Record’ may have found him in more settled, domesticated times, but the dry wit and subtle americana shine through on every track. A gentle gem of an album.

Bill Callahan: Gold Record – Out Now (Drag City Records)

From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.