Album Review

Dream River

Dream River

by Bill Callahan

Drag City/Spunk
8.5 / 10
19th September 2013

Reviewed by Max Walker

The man known for the better part of his musical career as Smog seems quite happy to be known as Bill Callahan, as he returns with a fourth release under his birth name. Along with compatriot and label-mate Will Oldham, Callahan has spent the last twenty or so years trying to redefine American folk in his own unique way. Far from the scratchy, lo-fi and almost unlistenable early recordings, Callahan’s albums nowadays are delicately crafted and lush affairs.

Dream River is a sparse but warm album, featuring a minimal amount of instrumentation and overdubs. The Texan’s voice is front and centre, surrounded by flutes, gentle electric and slide guitar work, and tasteful fiddle and pianos. The lyrics are vintage Callahan, containing the reoccurring naturalistic motifs of rivers, trees and eagles.

Generally positive rather than lonesome, most of the songs, particularly ‘Small Plane’, feature not just the protagonist alone in the wilderness as in previous releases but also a companion. This connection with another, and vicariously, the listener, gives an extra dimension to Callahan’s narrative. Dream River is an example of a modern storyteller at the height of his powers.

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