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Diese Sendung wird etwas „tricky im tracking“. Das Schlüsselstück sollte von dem neuen Bill Callahan-Album kommen. Aber die mp3-Kopie ist von derart schwacher Tonqualität, dass ich es wohl ausfallen lassen muss, wenn Drag City es nicht schafft, mir ein Original zu senden. Bill ist ja im Februar auf Deutschlandtour, und jeder fünfte deutsche Leser dieses Blogs wird schon sein Ticket haben :) Und dann  war da noch dieser wunderbare Film gestern im Kino, der von Kritikern gerne verrissen wird, dabei ist The Secret Life of Walter Mitty kluges, anrührendes, vielschichtiges, brilliant inszeniertes Kino, und wohl der erste Film von und vor allem  mit dem Komiker Ben Stiller, der mir rundum gefällt. Die Soundtrackabteilung hat ganze Arbeit geleistet, und so erzählen die Songs den Film mit ihren unverbrauchten Melodien gleichsam mit. Ein Oldie ist auch dabei, und wie der inszeniert wurde, gehört für mich zu den schönsten Filmszenen der letzten Zeit. Also, ich hoffe, noch den Soundtrack zu bekommen. Nach dem virtuellen Talk über Tom Waits mit Ian hatte ich unmittelbar Lust, Top of The Hill zu spielen. aber das passt an keiner Stelle, ich sag ja: „tricky tracking“. Und die playlist wird wohl erst Freitag letzte Gestalt annehmen – Überraschung! Am Samstag wird sie dann hier (als Kommentar) gepostet. A ja, und drei Frauenstimmen werden ertönen, nacheinander, wahrscheinlich … zwischen Mülheim a.d. Ruhr und Kingston, Jamaica, ist der Bogen weit gespannnt – und wo war Walter Mitty gleich unterwegs: in Grönland und Island. Gnadenlos gut in einer Gastrolle: Sean Penn. Würde der Altmeister der Tragikomödie, Preston Sturges, im 21. Jahrhundert leben, er hätte diesen Film auch gerne gedreht, das ist die Liga, in der diese „extended version“ einer Kurzgeschichte von James Thurber spielt! Wir haben sie einst im Englischunterricht besprochen.

 
 

 

Whether recording under his own name or, in earlier times, as Smog, Bill Callahan has always been enigmatic, a cowboy philosopher with a booming tenor that could make almost anything sound important. His new project finds him as dreamy as he’s ever been, in the sense that dreams can be confusing, disturbing, pure fun, and kind of mind-expanding. Have Fun with God, a collection of dub remixes of songs from last year’s Dream River, is an intriguing proposition – and fully realized with all its holes and deep-bass pulses that swallow much of the lyrics. A stunning space-country ode to Love And What It All Means, Dream River has the kind of conceptual and sonic depth that can lend itself well to reinterpretation. It creates whole worlds out of a woodblock, some flutes, and a lone murmuring guitar, making Callahan’s talks of romantic epiphany sound like they’re coming from a confessional booth in the ionosphere. It’s ideal fodder for dub. Dream River’s personality comes from the richness of his storytelling and, easy to forget, from the sparse sounds in the surroundings, the ascetic guitar figures, the suggestions of a groove. The ability to create silences is not the only connection with the old Jamaican invention of Dub. When you crank the reverb, delete a lot of the verses, and open the spotlight to the bass and drums, it sounds like a new world that casts valuable shadows on the original material. „Dub is a ghost, a duppy. A duppy of a childhood guppy,“ reads the album’s press release. It’s like an old echo that brings back distant memories and nearly lost vibes.  Bill Callahan albums are go-tos for profundity, for mystery, for connection. This little session can easily be misunderstood as a clever joke (and for sure it will get some thumb-down reviews), but it’s far more than the artist’s private playground or a non-sensical exercise for its own sake. It shows that you can dig deep even when most verses are fragmented, suspended in air. You, as the listener, are part of the game, ready for detecting clues, enjoying moments of clearness – and even strolling in the shadows! Bill Callahan’s Dream River is a masterpiece, and this companion album inspires a deeper appreciation of its source material’s beautiful bones, illuminating elements that were hiding in plain sight, like the pretty Fender Rhodes licks on „Ride My Dub.“ If the album ultimately succeeds, it’s because it is a joy to follow this new document of ancient landscapes, old stories and dream texts that deliver new shades of meaning with every listening session (preferably at nighttime), every distant beat of a conga, and every breath they take.

It didn’t really come as a surprise when I got the legal download link from Drag City to listen to the twin-album of Bill Callahan’s Dream River, funnily titled HAVE FUN WITH GOD. These are real dub-versions, substracting instruments, substracting verses, emphasizing certain sounds, motives,  lines, words, bass pulses and nice holes without interrupting the flow.  If anybody thinks this might be a clever joke, she’s/he’s wrong. A lot of people who love the original album and have a certain affinity fo the aesthetics of Jamaican dub, might easily be fascinated by the way these twin songs never loose their impact. Right, it’s just another perspective, but one done with care and thought. Wonderful. Someone who works with suggestions , illusions, small hints etc. (and Bill Callahan does that a lot) just has to think, one day, about the ascetic charmes of dub music, simple as that.

2013 25 Sep

Alltagsgespräche und Bills neue Songs (4/10)

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– Und wie entwickeln sich die „Shot Gun Love Songs“ weiter?

– Ich komme kaum zum Lesen. Es gibt, seit wir zuletzt drüber geredet haben, kein weiteres Lagerfeuer hinzugekommen. Jetzt tritt auch noch eine Hollywoodschönheit auf, und bis jetzt staune ich, wie der Autor an all dem Kitsch, der da droht, elegant vorbeischrammt … Bis Seite 72 jedenfalls …

– Der Gitarrist, wir wollten über den Gitarristen reden.

– Das ist Matt Kinsey, und er überragt keinen auf „Dream River“, weil diese Band lebendig und homogen klingt, aber er ist so gut, er kann einen Text von Bill Callahan „lautmalen“, er kann ihn kommentieren, die dunkle Seite eines ambivalenten Gefühls verstärken, und er macht es so sparsam wie Bill singt.

– Zum Beispiel in diesem Frühlingslied …

– Genau. Lieblingszeile: „Die Berge brauchen nicht meinen Ritterschlag.“  In „Spring“ wittert der Sänger und Murmler überall im Frühling Tod und Verfall, und ausgerechnet in diesem Szenario sehnt er sich nach Sex und „dem wahren Frühling“ in seiner Liebespartnerin (lacht). Soviel zur Ambivalenz …

– Und Matt Kinsey kommentiert …

– Jedes Mal anders, er hat keine Masche. Ben Radcliffe schreibt über ihn:
„Using echo and delay pedals and a tremolo bar, Mr. Kinsey keeps creeping in, bursting like a pink sky, and slipping away. His work on this record feels like one continuous performance, and one of the best by anyone I have heard this year.“

–  Du hast mir das Tape deiner „Klanghorizonte“ vom  kommenden Samstag gegeben, und ich musste einmal so lachen, als du beschrieben hast, wie du dich auf das Mammutwerk „November“ von Dennis Johnson vorbereitet hast. Brauchst du bei „Dream River“ auch so einige Zutaten.

– Nein,  meine Opiumvorräte greife ich nur selten an (lacht), die Zeit vergeht im Fluge, ich muss nur die Schallplatte umdrehen, was ich über zehn Jahre nicht mehr gemacht habe, und ein ziemlich gutes Gefühl vermittelt. Dennis Johnsons 5-Stunden-Opus ist da schon eine andere Welt. Schliesslich ist der gute Dennis auch Mathematiker und hat an den Robotern für den Mars mitgewerkelt.

– Hast du noch einen Jazztip?

–  Nur die Cds, die ich in den letzten JazzFacts vorgestellt habe, also Carla Bley etwa, oder Ralph Towner. Beide  Produktionen sind, in einem ganz aufregenden Sinn, unspektakulär.

 

Spring

The wind is pushing the clouds along out of sight
A power is putting them away
A power that moves things neurotically
Like a widow with a rosary

And everything is awing and tired of praise
And mountains don’t need my accolades
And spring looks bad lately anyway
Like death warmed over

And the bantam is preening madly
Waiting for the light of day
And all I want to do is to make love to you

With a careless mind
With a careless, careless mind
With a careless, careless mind
Who cares what’s mine?
With a careless, careless, careless mind

We call it spring though things are dying
Connected to the land like a severed hand
And I see our house on a hill on a clear blue morning
When I am out walking my eyes are still forming
The door I walk through and I see
The true spring is in you
The true spring is in you

My wide worlds collide
And mind wide words collide
And seasons kaleidoscoping

And all I want to do
All I want to do is to make love to you
In the fertile dirt, in the fertile dirt
With a careless mind
With a careless, careless, careless mind

Dream River is a display of Callahan’s peak powers, a masterpiece work documenting Callahan’s aesthetic as a refined craft. Over his 20 plus years of making music, his voice has matured, deepened, become more controlled. The farther back one listens into his catalogue, back into the Smog years, Callahan’s lyrical tone and delivery are more present, overt, whimsical (and, naturally, more juvenile). Superficially more fun but not nearly as expressive as his songwriting and performance on albums like Apocalypse, and Dream River, his most recent and realized work. He’s pared down the language of his poetry, essentialized melodic ideas and steadied his guitar grooves. Singing low and slow, he can gently inflect a single word and suggest an entire world of meaning. Callahan’s greatest skill, his magic, is the immaculate control he exercises over his delivery.

Dream River’s unforgettable opening verse hinges on a stunt of Callahan’s delivery: “Drinkin’… while sleepin’… Strangers… unknowingly… Keep me company… In the hotel bar…” Here a proud melody pipes in, steel guitars and a fiddle, “Looking out a window that isn’t there…” There are hints of a “western” sound, pawing percussion like horse hooves in a lazy cantor, but it’s from a western where the frontier is a bottomless pit of introspection, “Lookin’ at the carpet and the chairs…” His perspective is cinematic, zooming in astoundingly close. Oftentimes it seems like Callahan’s world is extremely close around him. “Well the only words I said today are ‘beer,’ and ‘thank you,” he says, so matter-of-factly it’s funny, a blackly comic “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” He repeats those words, “beer… thank you… beer,” in absent-minded conversation with the pastoral fiddle. His band hangs on his every word, breath, nuance—a feat of studied musicianship. And then in a beat the unhurried song picks up and shifts focus, “Giving praise in a quiet way… like a chuch. . . that’s far away.” There’s tour de force storytelling here proffered in a most subdued way, and this song, “The Sing,” is a proclamation, a thesis statement.

“Drover,” the first song on Dream River‘s predecessor, Apocalypse, performs a similar function for that album but with the soaring overview of an orchestral suite introducing an opera. These opening songs contain a small part of each and every of their respective album’s components. These songs are points of entry. Apocalypse was a Homeric epic, a contemplation of life and death, a clinging to reality, experience, the exterior world. The music exhales the dust stamped up by the cattle that one fine morning and you can nearly taste it in your mouth. These two albums share some western frontier imagery, but Callahan utilizes genre much in the way David Lynch uses cop noir in Twin Peaks: a familiar story mold which serves as the vehicle for exploring the unknowable infinity of the interior world… the dream world. “The Sing” ushers in Dream River in a friendlier, laid back manner, a playful premonition of the serious, inward tone the rest of the record.

For all his focus on detail, delivery, and control in the exterior shell of the music—the sound, the style, the rhythm—Callahan’s lyrics in Dream River are concerned with what is out of his control, chaos, fractured reality. “Is life a ride to ride? Or a story to shape and confide? Or chaos neatly denied?” he asks in “Ride My Arrow.” The song’s title recalls a libidinal Smog lyric except that he’s asking these questions from the perspective of prey hanging from an eagle’s talons. Callahan aligned himself with this set of archetypal naturalist language long ago—the bird, the tree, the river, the mountain—bare words free of any extraneous specificity. Callahan sounds quite at home in the primordial metaphor of his river. “Melt the snow of dreams… dream river,” he sings in “Seagull.” The details in his stories about going up in a small plane and painting names on boats are obfuscated with lines like “I always go wrong in the same place, where the river splits towards the sea,” and “I never truly knew who I was working for anyway…” There isn’t much certainty or clarity in this world, journeys are misdirected, a river’s path is dammed up by beavers, javelins are launched and never meet any target. “The land I love is splitting in two… again… and again and again… And war muddies the river, and getting’ out we’re dirtier than gettin’ in” he laments on “Arrow.” The musical arrangements for the songs are dark, fogged in trilling, breathy flute and smeared with slowly howling electric guitar.

Callahan’s music doesn’t have an answer to the question of life being a ride or a story or chaos denied. Rather these songs exalt the question through Callahan’s skilled artifice. “Oh I have learned when things are beautiful… to just keep on…” he sings on “Winter Road.” And it seems beautiful things can be found in the close intimacy of another: a lover, a friend… Such human connections are vital, empowering, necessary. “I never like to land. Getting back up seems impossibly grand…” he sings in “Small Plane,” “…we do it with ease.” That “Riding For the Feeling” from Apocalypse is recontextualized, riding together, under one another’s sphere of protection: “I like it when I take the control from you, and you take the control from me.” Callahan is a dark prophet of hope, making good on a toast he made many years ago as Smog in “Our Anniversary,” “And here’s to next year/ Maybe you’ll join me in my car/ We’ll drive together/ But not too far.”

Bill Callahan has an uncanny ability to make you think about life. The images are vivid, the language, simple, and the metaphors open to interpretation. He’s a storyteller who could arguably be mentioned in the same breath as troubadours like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark, even Johnny Cash.

As with every Callahan release—dating back to his 1988 debut under the Smog moniker—there’s plenty to chew on with his latest, Dream River. And that’s just the lyrics, whose weightiness is given more heft by his controlled baritone. His records seem to be made up of a million vivid scenes that paint a compelling portrait of the human condition.

Where 2011’s Apocalypse was a more lonesome record, Dream River feels optimistic. You probably won’t get that from opener “The Sing,” which puts you in a hotel bar, the narrator explaining, “the only words I’ve said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you.’” But as the album progresses you get a sense of an underlying love story, one that’s far from perfect, and one that could be real or a dream. “Small Plane” uses its titular metaphor to describe the trust of a man and a woman (presumably through what could be interpreted as the biggest act of trust). The album continues this way, painting a clear narrative through seemingly hazy recollections.

Musically, Dream River matches the dreamlike state of Callahan’s lyrics. Guitars intertwine softly with equally slinky bass lines. Flutes chirp like spring birds on “Javelin Unlanding” and “Summer Painter,” while percussion pitters and patters throughout. There are more jazz flourishes than straight country strums, which add to the record’s dream sequences. It’s easy to get lost, especially through headphones.

It’s hard to tell which (if any) parts of Dream River are pulled from Callahan’s own life, or if he’s simply gleaning from the human condition. “Life ain’t confidential / No, no, no / It’s not, it isn’t and it ain’t, confidential,” he sings on “Ride My Arrow.” That sentiment essentially illustrates the 47-year-old’s existence over the past 25 years. Callahan has used his art to make sense of the world, and in turn helps us make some sense of it, too.

 

 
 
 
1) Bill Callahan: Dream River – *****

2) Arve Henriksen: Places of Worship – **** 1/2

3) Jan Bang: Narrative From The Subtropics – **** 1/2

4) Dysnomia: Dawn of Midi – ****1/2

6) Sleaford Mods: Austerity Dogs – **** 1/2

5) Carla Bley: Trios – **** 

7) Ralph Towner / Wolfgang Muthspiel / Slava Grigoryan: Travel Guide – ****

8) Stephan Mathieu: The Falling Rocket – ****

9) Townes Van Zandt: High, Low and In Between – **** (buried treasure back)

10) Califone: Stitches –  ****

11) S.O.S. (J. Surman, M. Osborne, A. Skidmore): Looking for the Next One – **** (buried treasure back)

12) Bob Dylan: Another Self Portrait – **** (buried treasure back) 
 
 

12 excellent albums, incl. Americana (Callahan, Califone, Van Zandt, Dylan), ECM at its most sublime, Norwegian Food (Bang, Henriksen) etc. Bang’s new release is out now on Jazzland Records (go there for orders!), Henriksen’s one available online via Rune Grammofon’s website), „Places of Worship“ will be in European shops at the end  of October. Both albums (cd- and vinyl-formats, thanks for that!) are melodic and experimental at the same time, repeated listening will reveal that the angel is in the details. The most surprising record here (in its post-punk-comedy stylings and its aggressive humour) comes from The Nottingham duo Sleaford Mods – beware of the dogs! The first albums of the unforgettable Townes van Zandt are now re-released on viny and real classics of their genre. I don’t like the word re-release so much and do replace it here with „buried treasure back“. Gregor is right in his comment, some of these records are so new they nearly still don’t exist. The good news: no one can yet bury them. Stephan Mathieu’s „The Falling Record“ is a real „burner“. Mathieu is part of Sylvian’s dark and strangely uplifting „The Kilowatt Hour“-Trio, and he wanted to give his vinyl edition to David, but missed his departure from the hotel, so, by chance, Mr. Sylvian’s copy – brilliant press quality – ended up in my bag.

 

 

 

 

Bill Callahan: Dream River [Drag City]

 

River ain’t too much to love, I wish we were an eagle, and Apocalypse were three masterpieces. Under the name of Smog, Bill Callahan had released several very good works, the best were Red apple falls, and Knock knock. So, in a year, without new albums of The Mountain Goats, Robert Wyatt, Joanna Newsom, Brian Eno, Lambchop and David Sylvian, Bill Callahan might release the „killer album“. In the field of raw and intimate songs.

 

“My language came from watching Humphrey Bogart movies as a kid and wondering, Who is this Raymond Chandler guy? A lot of it just has to do with the metre, the way the sentences are put together. I outgrew Chandler once I discovered (US-hard boiled authors) Cain, Hammett and Woolrich. Some of the Hammett short stories are almost like Beckett, and Woolrich was kind of like Poe. Those writers speak to me in a way Shakespeare doesn´t.” (Mojo)


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