I’ve just finished a longish review of this new Bill Callahan album, “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”, for the next issue of Uncut, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here; save some adjectives, maybe, for the magazine. It is, though, one of the best records Callahan has made in what’s now a reasonably long, generally underestimated career.

I’ve just finished a longish review of this new Bill Callahan album, “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”, for the next issue of Uncut, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here; save some adjectives, maybe, for the magazine. It is, though, one of the best records Callahan has made in what’s now a reasonably long, generally underestimated career.



“Sometimes I Wish. . .” is, in fact, Callahan’s 13th album by my reckoning, including of course those that came out as Smog or (Smog). Like one of his obvious antecedents Leonard Cohen, Callahan has a voice – a reverberant baritone that ambles along by the side of a melody rather than actually sings it – that he grows into with age. Where once he sounded preternaturally ancient, now he sounds healthily matured and weathered. Experience becomes him.

And as a consequence, it’s a lot easier to see Callahan as ruefully mellow these days rather than miserable, as he’s often been erroneously stereotyped (for one thing, he’s blatantly sung in – often misanthropic – character for most of his career). On “Sometimes I Wish. . .” he really achieves some kind of state of grace, contemplating loss, faith, love, the usual stuff (though horses and rivers aren’t as prominent as usual in the lyrics) and a lot of birds.

What works brilliantly here, too, is how the simple, linear tunes are embellished by orchestrations from another Austin resident, Brian Beattie. Beattie subtly factors in violins, cellos and French horns, providing a rich soundbed that never detracts from Callahan’s own performance as the album’s centre of gravity. Earlier this week, he answered a bunch of my questions about the record by email (I’ll run the whole Q&A on here nearer the time), and compared this album’s predecessor, “Woke On A Whaleheart” to a ‘70s singer-songwriter, Jimmy Webb-type thing because of the variety of styles he attempted there.

Strangely, though, I’d been thinking about Webb myself in relation to “Sometimes I Wish. . .”, because there’s something about the empathetic lushness of these arrangements – “Jim Cain”, “Too Many Birds”, “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” especially – that make me think of him. Callahan is never as theatrical as Webb, of course, and the backing is correspondingly measured. But the overall feel is somehow similar.

Those looking for Callahan’s old viciousness might be struggling here, apart from the odd hiss and snarl on the exceptional motorik of “My Friend”. While “Whaleheart” was conspicuously jolly in parts, in stark contrast to some of the earlier records like “Rain On Lens”, say, the general mood here is reflective. He still has a capacity for good jokes, though, notably “Eid Ma Clack Shaw” – the title comes from the narrator reading back “the perfect song” he wrote in the middle of a dream. Callahan sings an entire verse of this, all entirely incomprehensible. Weirdly, though, it’s also one of the most profound and moving, as well as funny, songs I’ve heard in a while.