Bill Callahan Dream River

Bill CallahanDream River
"The only words I said today are 'beer' and 'thank you,'" Bill Callahan intones on "The Sing." It's a charming introduction to Dream River, a gracefully brilliant record that often juxtaposes easy comfort with the inevitable void we're all headed for. The music regularly possesses off-kilter pep — full of haze and odd, ear-catching instrumentation (flutes, warped guitars, possibly hand drums) — which works in tandem with Callahan's supremely rare gifts for not only wordplay, but phrasing. "Oh, Javelin Unlanding" shouldn't be as memorable as it is, but when it spills out of this record, it sounds as comforting and cordial as the aforementioned "thank you." His elemental fascination and study of animals (human and otherwise) are provocative. On Apocalypse, he envisioned an agrarian renaissance born from the end of modern times, while his anecdotal metaphors here — planes in the sky, arrows flying towards eagles, signage on boats, Donald Sutherland radio interviews — tangle themselves in the tension between mankind's existence and its relatively trivial/distracting inventions. It's temporally displaced frontier pondering from urban, inland perspectives steeped in our seemingly mundane, but preciously finite moments and "every day" acts. "I wonder if I'll ever wake up," Callahan sings on "Seagull." "I mean really wake up." Dream River has subtle urgency at its core, like a crafty elder guiding a wayward youngster with the lightest hand possible. As a record, it's a nonchalant master class in how to do everything right when it comes to elevated songwriting and musicianship. Callahan is so cavalier a commander that one could have missed his wise voice over the last few years, even as he's released the finest albums of his already illustrious career. Dream River is required reading, without a doubt. (Drag City)