Review Summary: Bill Callahan proving yet again that he's a good egg.
In the opening moments of Dream River, in just as aptly titled a song (“The Sing
”), is where the whole album’s peaceable aura can effectively be summarized- in part by the instrumentation, a clanging of claves and a guitar gone a-wandering- but all the more in Bill’s baritone. Enshrined within its sauntering delivery is a homespun quality where his token poetics find a home, “Drinking while sleeping, strangers unknowingly give me company...
” And who else but Callahan, to disarm the listener with his wry humour and rare humanism, so that one can feel one’s own drunken stupor grow root as he continues, “In the hotel bar, looking out a window… that isn’t there
”. Here, in between the instruments’ aegis and that voice, there is room to wind down after a long day and dovetail into Callahan’s world, where every echo of “Beer…Thank you
” relaxes the way the plodding of water does, comparable to finding a friend in whom you find no hesitation in letting into your home.
In many a way, this album succeeds outright, whether that be the tasteful musical accompaniment to the clearness in the recording and subsequent mixing. But what could captivate a potential listener more than any description, is Paul Ryan’s hand in creating that artwork for which Bill gives praise in his quiet way, “I feel like I can smell the trees. I can feel the air and the temperature. I feel like I’m actually sitting there seeing the things that he’s seeing.
” In those beetling peaks and that waterfall demarcated by a single swash, is an empyreal backdrop that fleshes out the album’s atmosphere to such a degree, that only Bill himself could do justice; his voice a brush, his words the dollops on an easel, together painting a tapestry rich and minimal. Truly, there are many gems in this record lyrically, where in so many words as this sentence; he can spin a tale rounded by pauses, guarded without pretence and embroidered with coltish flutes and fiddles that can only leave the listener tickled pink and wonderfully content. Of the many gems, his intertwining of images of the natural world, (“The wind is pushing the clouds along- out of sight, a power is putting them away”
) with the love he feels for his wife (“My wide worlds collide, and mind-wide words collide, and seasons kaleidoscoping
”) comes to mind, combining with a climaxing tremolo guitar with so much emotive power, the reverie woven is bushwhacked and goosebumps cover the tenement over. Of another- the tale of being a summer painter, (“Rich man’s folly and poor man’s dream- I painted these while beavers built dams… all around me”
) and then concluding with folkloric touch, the suspicion from people that all that time spent down in the water had given him power over the wind and the rain. These lyrics with which he shapes stories, figures and metaphors in such a humbling way, viewed in of itself might only demonstrate a sharp wit, but it is in his manipulation of delivery that pulls taut the meaning to the forefront.
In the belly of this record, is a deep love for all things in the sky and the land, punctuated by oft wistful musings about life’s essence and things otherwise quaint, and it bleeds through in every moment, so that the sunsets I’ve spent fireside with the desert oaks lurching and swilling my beer with this as a garnish have been some of the most contented in my life. In sooth, this album has become a silver chord to my soul and for that I am infinitely grateful and only wish for other people to experience their own dream rivers, in any as which way as Bill can inspire.