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Bill Callahan’s new leaf

Austin resident and veteran singer-songwriter Bill Callahan's new record "Dream River" is warm and inviting, which begs the question: What happened to the old Bill Callahan?
by Matt Carney Modified: September 25, 2013 at 4:53 pm •  Published: September 25, 2013
/articleid/3886600/1/pictures/2221636">Photo - Bill Callahan. Via Drag City. Photo by Oto Gillen
Bill Callahan. Via Drag City. Photo by Oto Gillen

“Small Plane” has my favorite such moment. “Sometimes you sleep while I take us home / That’s when I know / We really have a home,” he sings in his even-keel pitch, arcing just as subtly as Thor Harris’s claves keep time. “I like it when I take the controls from you / And when you take the controls from me.” The level of trust and sincerity in those lines made the small plane itself my new preferred metaphor for mutual dependence. It’s also very telling that “Small Plane” is mostly written in the present tense, suggesting a new leaf for Callahan.

Musically, “Dream River” stretches and yawns — it often eschews a traditional drum kit for congas and the structure of guitar riffs for little textural scratches and the occasional, brief melody. There’s nothing jarring or unexpected, it just rolls on, like its titular river. Callahan’s vocals are way up at the top of the mix, where they belong. As billed, it’s dreamy, and the naturalism — beavers and seagulls as similes, rivers and forests as setting — renders it at once clear and mysterious, like a little parable.

I think “Dream River” is best understood as a lullaby for a lover. It’s soothing and beautiful and requires very little of its listener, and at the end of the day when your heart is full and your body is weary, it’ll make you chuckle but not laugh, reflect but not scrutinize. Something about it tells me that a once grumpy, confused man sleeps soundly these days.

by Matt Carney
Online Editor
Matt Carney is the night editor of and a 2011 graduate of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. He was born in Tulsa, lives in Oklahoma City and misses QuikTrip every day.
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