Another year list candidate that almost slipped through the net. This one was released in September – The other day I let a friend listen to some music that impressed me this year when she noted that somewhere along the line I must have picked up a liking for high-pitched male voices. I thought noting of it at the time, but judging from my most recent reviews on this BLOG, she must be right: Turin Brakes’ Olly Knights, Fenech-Soler’s Ben Duffy, Manic Street Preacher’s James Dean Bradfield, all brilliant voices, but all rather high-pitched. I can assure you that my sudden affection for the deep baritone of Bill Callahan isn’t compensatory behaviour. The fourth record released under his own name is just very good. Dream River was written with the idea of it becoming ‘the perfect end to a person’s day.’ With the realisation that middle-aged men like Bill Callahan and myself have a different idea of what the perfect end to a day sounds like than younger generations, I’d say he has outdone himself. Dream River makes you forget about trouble at work, noisy kids, a demanding spouse, your football club losing and even Zwarte Piet. After listening to Dream River you can fall asleep knowing that it’s gonna be all right. You can stream the entire album here.
Dream River has the look and feel of a roots album but its instrumentation is too varied to fit into a particular box. Congas and claves together with typical a over-modulated guitar sound remind me of Santana’s jazz fusion, whilst the regular presence of flutes adds a psych folk flavour. Marvin Gaye is mentioned by Callahan in opening track The Sing. ‘He’s especially someone who I listen to a lot’ Callahan confessed to the Detroit Free Press. Gaye’s influence is audible him vocal technique, especially his timing, which gives the impression of always lacking behind the music a bit, as if to emphazise that we’re nog pressed for time. Still, not every song on Dream River is as slow and quiet as its title and artwork would suggest; Javelin Unlanding is spiced-up by a snappy guitar hook and Ride My Arrow contains a driving rhythm over which Callahan is applying another Marvin Gaye vocal approach, the one that is halfway between singing and speaking.
The more I listen to Dream River the less soothing it sounds. Instead, I hear striking lyrics that are at least as confrontational as they are contemplative. From a disturbingly mundane line like ‘The only thing I’ve said today are beer and thank you/Beer…Thank you/Beer…Thank you/Beer…‘to the striking imagery of like ‘..beavers build dams all around me.’ I hear an attractive blend of 60s and 70s arrangements that evokes recognition, but is still unexpectedly original. And I hear a voice that within its outer appearance of paternal calm holds the ingenious idealism of young Marvin Gaye. A brilliant album.