“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.