Bill Callahan
Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest


5.0
classic

Review

by Doofy USER (2 Reviews)
July 4th, 2019 | 69 replies


Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: It feels good to be writing again...

It may seem, to a music fan with ‘best of the decade’ lists half completed and primed, that this is a strange time to release an attempted epic or epoch defining release. Of course, recording artists themselves are not beholden to such concerns and write according to the seasons of their own creative drives; still, Callahan’s been hibernating most of this decade so it's hardly surprising there’d be a sense of ‘what cave have you been hiding in?’ with him choosing now of all times to deliver an unfashionable and decidedly out of step double album. After so long asleep he faces seeing his magnum ‘Sheepskin’ opus slept on by an errant flock.

Early on he addresses his pangs of comeback doubt but thankfully by song number five, the self explanatory ‘Writing’, he’s decided it’s all worth it and we’re away, riding for the feeling once again. Early listens, even for Bill Callahan aficionados, might prove only sporadically fruitful as it soon becomes evident this material is hell bent on a-wanderin'. This is that rare sort of album where early concerns along the lines of ‘where are the hooks?’ are eventually quelled with the realisation that the entirety of the album is one long meandering series of perfect moments; in essence, every instrumental part, every dead on delivered one liner, is itself an eventual hook. Immediacy be damned.

Beyond this, and what elevates the album even further, is the fact 'Shepherd' works as a consummately crafted song cycle complete with recurring lyrical, musical and thematic motifs. On repeat plays the pacing and thematic groupings start to reveal their logic and Callahan goes a step further, cleverly placing key songs among the track list to help ground the listening experience and keep us on the right path. These longer ‘shepherd' songs all adopt one key theme that then bleeds into the surrounding material; so ‘Black Dog’ tackles legacy and family, for ‘Certainty’ it’s love and faith, ‘Son of the Sea’ parenthood, ‘Tugboats’ passing on wisdom, and finally ‘Beast’ settles on death.

Such major and varied themes unsurprisingly prove fertile ground and so most every song included here contains at least one standout line of lyrics. Callahan has grown into his voice which has had a somewhat fatherly tone for a while but makes all the more sense now - the way he injects humour by setting up an unexpected change to a deadpan tone is supremely Cohen-like. Examples are many, but a couple of favourites are:

‘I try to be a good person…I wonder

…if it’s annoying?’


'Some time alone when you are young is good
High, high time and drunk old time, sober time
I advise all three

…when your brain is at least twenty-three’

Where the lyrics aren’t the prime draw the ‘light touch’ musical backing does some surprising heavy lifting; overall the palette is low key and pastoral, but that still allows for surprising instrumental flourishes. The mood is like a brighter contrast to the one conjured up be Angelo Badalamenti on the soundtrack to David Lynch's Straight Story, it’s tender and timeless, and most of the album feels cast in sunshine. Close my eyes and can I picture Callahan riding a sit on lawn mower through rolling farmland with this album playing over the top? Uh, yeah.

Still, irrespective of these strengths, for any album of this kind to be considered a classic it will need at least one moment of such sublime resonance it catches you off guard. ‘Shepherd’ delivers on the song that takes up its position in the middle of the track list like a beating heart, ‘What Comes After Certainty’; the song builds a beautiful image of Callahan's wife videoing him in the sea while on honeymoon, only we listeners are privy to hearing how at this same moment he believes he sees the face of God reflected in the water. The way this line is delivered, so unabashed and open hearted, you can’t help but share in his revelation; that he then describes the face as plain to see but ‘hard to read’ is not unexpected, but in reality this later assertion changes little. We both just saw it Bill, we really did.


user ratings (43)
Chart.
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
DoofDoof
July 4th 2019


4452 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Messy review, messy album.



2.5

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

2.5 agreed. also this guy looks like a serial killer

DoofDoof
July 4th 2019


4452 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Think you have it all covered - where do I go for a rating drop?

Piglet
July 4th 2019


7859 Comments


oh FAK yES NEW PILL CALLAHAM KANTS

and its a double album??

DoofDoof
July 4th 2019


4452 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

that it is



sort of, only an hour long

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

yeah, he decided to put another 10 monotonous monochromatic songs on the album in case the first 10 didn't put you to sleep

DDDeftoneDDD
July 4th 2019


5855 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Haven't read it yet but Summary is perfect X)

Digging: False - Portent

Piglet
July 4th 2019


7859 Comments


fuckin christmas has come early

nice revew as well brotha m/

DoofDoof
July 4th 2019


4452 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Gyro - and this is coming from the Doof here so my self awareness is malfunctioning saying this for sure...but the same hot take repeated over and over can only communicate so much



You hate Koz too right? I don't think this one was ever going to be for you

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

is it a hot take to call a turd a turd? i figured it was redundant though, yeah

DoofDoof
July 4th 2019


4452 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I respond to hostility towards this album the same way I would to someone attacking Mahatma Gandhi lol



How can you smite an agent of peace and pure spiritual vibes?



I sort of get your complaints because I suffered them mildly at the start but meh, in reality you're missing everything

MarsKid
Contributing Reviewer
July 4th 2019


9348 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

A double-album only an hour long, that's certainly interesting.



Not sure if this is my cup of tea but I'll keep an open mind, the review intrigues me for sure.

Digging: Disentomb - The Decaying Light

NeroCorleone80
July 4th 2019


34575 Comments


will check for sure, been a while since Bill put a record out

Digging: DJ Slugo - In the Middle

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

"How can you smite an agent of peace and pure spiritual vibes?"



how can i smite a hippie? ez ;D

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

i just kind of roll my eyes whenever i jump to a random song on this, since it all sounds the same. the dude's voice literally never changes. it's like listening to a 1 hour audiobook. the lyrics are there and they're pretty great. some songs could be good too if maybe there were even an ounce of variety on offer.

NeroCorleone80
July 4th 2019


34575 Comments


Listen to his stuff under Smog, theres much more variety in those albums

DDDeftoneDDD
July 4th 2019


5855 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

His vocals are beautiful. It comes as a very low Nick Drake at times for me. I dig.

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

i might just do that. i do enjoy me some indie folk but at least write some damn hooks or engaging guitar passages or something, christ. can only listen to the same one-note vocals for so long before it drives me insane.

Gyromania
July 4th 2019


27979 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

honestly, nick drake's vocals are SO much more emotive. i do get the comparison to a degree, but his songs were catchy, had lovely arrangements, and actual vocal variety. bill callahan sounds like he's perpetually on the verge of falling asleep.

DDDeftoneDDD
July 4th 2019


5855 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Its obvious you don't like it, but also obvious you don't pay enough attention at times X) I believe you tried it though. It takes some set and setting, or a certain moment in life I agree.



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