As the world goes to shit, it’s nice to know there are at least some constants left. Bill Callahan is one.
The cheekily titled Gold Record (he’s always acknowledged his cult status with a wink in his titles) finds him on relaxed form. The whole album is like calm and sunshine after a catastrophe. But that’s only one half of the story.
“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” he deadpans on the intro to the tender, Tex-Mex waltz of Pigeons. It’s obviously self-deprecating, but for this generation, the comparison seems fair. The elder statesman of alt-country status suits him fine.
Breakfast, with its gorgeous interplay between Callahan and Matt Kinsey’s guitar, and Jaime Zurverza’s bass, dissects the vagaries of an uncertain relationship through a domestic setting. The little niggles between him and his partner are becoming apparent, and the breakfast table no longer affords the same comfort as before. It’s not just the eggs that are scrambled.
A new version of Let’s Move To The Country is absolutely blissful country music, but with an undercurrent. Tucked into the cowboy boots is a flick knife. There’s always a little steel glinting in the sun.
Ry Cooder meanwhile strips things right back and is an affectionate tribute to the multi-instrumentalist legend without being fawning or ostentatious.
That famous Callahan instrument, his voice, remains warm and reassuring, like a shot of brandy trickling down the throat in the wee small hours. It’s always suited his wry lyricism, which has an eye for both the minutiae and absurdism life throws at us.
These vignettes feel like little short stories by Raymond Carver, slice of life stuff. Callahan has always known, as with Carver, that it’s what you leave out that is as important as what you add to the songs.
So, the eyebrow is raised and the nib is ever pointed, but it’s an album which takes its sweet time. In an increasingly divided and fretful world which demands instant gratification and new advances 24/7, that feels very necessary – to clear a space, and just breathe.