Guess what? Bill Callahan got married....and fathered a child. Lovely news but what it has meant is that Bill's music has taken a back seat in recent years to the rigours and glories of family life. He's more that made up for it though with this 20 track album of new material. Don't panic though, not an endless double album these are short, sharp compositions exemplifying his songwriting talents.
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At what age did Bill Callahan realise his voice could do that? I guess (I hope?) he didn’t come out of the voice with a voice that oaken and sonorous. Callahan’s voice is the one that the National’s Matt Berninger wishes he had. It’s comforting and firm, and seemingly requires absolutely no effort on Callahan’s part. If I had his voice I’d probably be singing things to myself constantly, though that’s assuming that Callahan doesn’t hate his voice like the rest of us.
Shepherd in a Sheepskin vest is the product of a relatively turbulent moment in Callahan’s life, his transition to fatherhood. In the lead up to the album’s release he has spoken about his anxieties in finding room for his art. And luckily for us, he found it. The songs proceed at a plaintive plod, ‘Son of the Sea’ charmingly albums ahead while Callahan imagines a simpler life where his family are dependent on him, a fisherman. The instrumentation is gentle, acoustic bass and slide guitar fill in the gaps Callahan leaves behind while he sings. The whole experience is uncommonly warm, and profoundly moving. Even when he’s being a bit cheekier, as on ‘The Ballad of the Hulk’, a song that uses the big green angry man to consider his own imprint on the world, the generosity of the music feels entirely unusual.
With a voice like his, there’s a degree to which Bill Callahan the singer songwriter feel inevitable. But nothing is, not even this album.
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