Album Reviews

Bill Callahan – Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle

(Drag City) UK release date: 30 March 2009

It’s hard to think of an artist that has matured as much over theyears as Bill Callahan, aka Smog, aka (smog). Once the prince oflo-fi, his recordings have become progressively more sophisticated -both in terms of instrumentation and lyrical content.

This is, afterall, the same man who, on 1993’s Julius Caesar, was hollering up astorm about a young lady not insisting on condoms: “What kind of angelis that?” Well, it was the ’90s, after all.

These days, it’s all a lotmore sedate – perhaps too sedate. His last record, Woke On AWhaleheart, his first under his own name, received fairly poorreviews, even from publications once enamoured with his chiseledbaritone voice. But you don’t carve out a 19-year recording career without being determined, if not stubborn as a mule, andCallahan’s not really one to care too much about the critics.

Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle plows a similar vein to Woke On AWhaleheart: the black humour, the percussion as insistent as anail-gun, and that Marmite voice are all present and correct. Butwhere Woke On A Whaleheart tended towards gothic country, Sometimes IWish We Were An Eagle introduces some beautiful orchestral flourishesthat offset Callahan’s gravely voice perfectly.

It’s reminiscent attimes to what pal and label stablemate Will Oldham did onBonnie “Prince” Billy Sings Greatest Palace Music. It’s a gamble thatreally pays off on opener Jim Cain, with Callahan sounding like analcoholic that just woke up before noon for the first time in sevenyears and saw some sunshine and flowers.

Eid Ma Clack Shaw carries onthe fine form, milking the full emotional impact from the lyrics,”Show me the way/ Show me the way/ To shake a memory”. While theorchestration dives into panto at the opening of The Wind And TheDove, it recovers to become a fine song about unfulfilled love.

Whisper it: could Callahan be back on form? Well, don’t get tooexcited. For some reason, he’s got a peculiar obsession with veryloud, steady drums. After those first, fine tracks, it all startsfeeling like you are trapped in the muffling embrace of a lumberjackwith a heart the size of an ox.

Rocco Zephyr should have been the coretrack, but instead is a headache-inducing dirge. It setsthe tone for the album, with moments of real beauty smothered byoverenthusiastic percussion. Closer Faith/Void is a song about, ahem,losing one’s religion, and is the perfect opportunity to make up forlost ground. Come on, Bill!

It’s the last track, it’s about God, giveus something to remember. Well, no, it’s not going to happen. Callahansings about it being “time to put God away”, as though he were rollingsocks and stowing them safely in the top drawer. It’s what you’ll bedoing with Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle after a few listens.

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