Bill Callahan - Dream River

12 October, 2013

By Harry Dam


Aaah , Callahan! There's a wonderful understatement to Bill Callahan's music which, ironically, goes hand in hand with his overstated critical acclaim (some have gone far enough to name him his generation's indie heir to Leonard Cohen or Johnny Cash).  Bill Callahan's music is an acquired taste. The lyrics are simple, witty and direct.  The music is minimalist, yet perfectly poised. Like all Smog and Bill Callahan records, "Dream River" is not clubbable, it's personal, it's all about the mumbling, the baritone voice and the warmth of the lyrics.    


Opening track "The Sing", is probably the strongest song in Dream River, offering  a wonderful combination of fiddle and country guitar as well as what seems to be everyone's favourite catchphrase from this album: ''The only words I've said today are 'beer' and 'thank you'", repeated three or four times, to paint a more vivid picture. Dream River is more about the human connection though, as the ending lyrics of 'The Sing' subtly reveal (''we're all looking for a body or a means to make one sing'').


Indeed, Callahan has lightened up a lot since 2011's "Apocalypse". Dream River takes off with the more energetic ''Javelin Unlanding'' ("Bam bam bam, the earth off its axis"), through flutes and hand drums . The cynicism and alleged misanthropy are also gone, as Callahan relishes the joys of a trusting relationship in 'Small Plane' (''I really am a lucky man, riding a small plane'') and 'Spring' (''all I wanna do/ is make love to you in the fertile dirt/with a careless mind'').


As usual with Bill Callahan, there's also an affinity with nature in "Dream River". There's a pretty explicit four seasons theme ("Spring", "Summer Painter", "Winter Road"). "Ride my Arrow" demonstrates a continuing fascination with the eagle and expresses a certain lament ("The land I love is splitting in two/ again and again/War muddies the river and getting out, we're dirtier than getting in"). The trip continues with "Seagull" which also offers some favourite lines from this album ("I wonder if I'll ever wake up/I mean really wake up" and "with all the tolls we pay/ we'll own the highway someday").


More or less, we get what we'd expect in "Dream River". Nothing cutting edge in terms of the music, but Callahan's poetry shines through some genuinely heartwarming tracks. Although it is not for everyone, it's capturing and rewarding and one of Bill Callahan's best works to date.


In Callahan's own words:  "The first song is a guy sitting in a bar, observing. All the other songs are like a trip, a lot of things flying and moving through the air. Then with the last song ("Winter Road") it's back to reality". 





Primary Genre: Americana


Release Date:  17 September 2013


Label: Drag City


Like This And You'll Probably Also Like:   Will Oldham, Smog, Papa M, Father John Misty


Album Highlights:  The Sing, Ride my Arrow, Seagull








Contributor mini-profile

Harry Dam

Harry Dam

8 Fluffy Reviews
"That second hand living it just won't do"
Mini bio
A sucker for Primaverasound festival, the Guardian, Larry David, Mad Men. Old enough to have seen PJ Harvey in Rodon back in, ahemm, 1995. Martial arts hopeful, kiteboarding trainee, ex-banker, havouza-maker, professional procrastinator.  
Favourite Bands / Artists
Yo La Tengo
My Bloody Valentine
Leonard Cohen
The Magnetic Fields