Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Albums of the Year # 1 Bill Callahan - Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Not necessarily the album I've listened to most over the course of the year but the one I think is the best. From July:

Bill Callahan strikes me as an artist who only seems to get better with time. While other musicians strive to stay relevant with the passing of the years, he only becomes more so. He refines and hones what he does to a point of clarity precious few others achieve or can even aspire too.

His latest album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, just out, is his first for six years, and is quite worth the wait. In the meantime Callahan has got married, had a son, and found domestic calm, leading him to question whether he should even be creating and recording music anymore, as it no longer has the driving centrality it had previously in a career moving towards its fourth decade.

We can only be grateful that he chose to return. The record is a double, and a feast to relish, dive into and immerse yourself within at repeated sittings. Twenty songs, imbued with the vedic calm and warm, rich irony but also chiselled profundity that has come to be his modus operandi.

The songs come across almost as diary entries. Minimalist, poetic and beautifully self-aware. Opening up like beautifully judged and lovingly wrapped gifts, the perfect things to listen to late at night before surrendering to sleep.

There's a well earned and hard won contentment to the record and you can't help but feel really pleased for the man. Full of lines so perfectly judged and rendered that you want to press pause and write them down. 'I woke up on a 747. Flying through some stock footage of heaven.' To quote just one. He makes it all seem utterly effortless when it's perfectly plain that it's anything but. Otherwise countless others would be doing it too.

Honouring the ghosts of Cohen, Reed and Buckley, Callahan has matured to the degree when the light is utterly his, despite inevitable reminders of his inspirations. Musically his arrangements skirt the borderlines between Folk and Country. Everything is slowed to Callahan's inimitable pace. Frankly it's something of a masterpiece. A book to give pride of place on your shelf and return to whenever you have need of its sustenance.

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