Left of the Dial: Bill Callahan’s Dream River

On September 17, American singer-songwriter, Bill Callahan, released his fifteenth studio album entitled “Dream River.” Callahan who is originally from Silver Spring, Maryland has been making music since 1990 with his first album “Sewn to the Sky.” Just like “Sewn in the Sky,” most of Callahan’s music has been recorded and produced under the name “Smog.” His early work is mostly instrumental in contrast to his more recent albums which strongly emphasize his raw lyrics. “Dream River” is similar to his other records for it was produced with the independent record label, Drag City, but is only the fourth album to be released under Bill Callahan’s actual name rather than Smog.

“Dream River” is a pleasantly spare. His sung words are obviously well thought out and its remarkable how concise Callahan is with his lyrics. Unlike his first early records, “Dream River” is rather simple with its chord progression and composition and does not have the aggressive like quality that Callahan’s music once once beheld.  The entire album has an underlying theme of isolation but when accompanied with his mellow, ongoing guitar and rich voice, Callahan’s music creates an eerie blissfulness lined with painful longing his lyrics express. Listening to his album feels like a subtle cleanse from the outside world. Callahan’s voice has always been irresistibly soothing even after his melancholy words influence the mood.
The album follows a recurring trend in most of Callahan’s work as it has a strong connection to the nature that surrounds him. The album can be described as being earthy but in way that doesn’t use the typical folk conventions to display it. “Dream River” is an example of Callahan’s growth as well. His unique voice has grown richer and less nasally as time has passed. And although his simple style still remains, Callahan’s songs have grown slightly more exotic with his use of conga drums and a flute.
Callahan once described his process with “There’s this huge block of silence and you carve little bits out of it by making sound.” His outlook is intriguing and his music’s quality is definitely just as sparse as he describes it to be but in the most charming way possible. “Dream River” is certainly a strong one, however, my personal favorite remains as “Sometimes I wish We were an Eagle” which was released in 2009. Callahan’s new release deserves 3.5 stars out of five in my opinion but If you’ve yet to give “Dream River” a listen, I highly recommend it. You’ll not only fall in love with the music but also with the man himself.

For more information on Bill Callahan and his new music visit http://www.dragcity.com/artists/bill-callahan.