Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle
I once happened upon a Callahan show at Boston’s MFA with friends who are seasoned fans of the Smog oeuvre. In town to promote Woke on a Whaleheart, my pals were far less surprised than I when a very average looking, middle-aged man took the stage to sing existential songs about meadows, dark skies, anniversaries, and water wells in his unmistakable deep baritone.
On Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle, the lo-fi Jandek admirer continues his tradition of half-speaking his otherwise emotional lyrics, backed by lovely orchestral chords. For as unimpressive as that might sound, it is the opposite. No one but Callahan can sound modest and sincere when employing phrases like “jaunty as a bee” or explaining, “I started telling a story without knowing the end.” His contemporaries would sound like awkward poseurs at best. But here, when he says, “I ended up in search of ordinary things,” it’s ol’ Bill just doing what he does best.
Most of the new tracks maintain the form Smog fans have come to know and love, though a few offer surprises. “My Friend” is the kind of song that shows Callahan’s progression as an artist whose preferred instruments used to be misshapen or broken. Showing influences of his experimental past, the song is cohesive, winding, and building on itself through strange chord progressions and lyrics about “sweet desire and soft thoughts.”
“All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast,” on the other hand, is not so much a song as a three-minute experimental drone, and a bit out of place. “Faith/Void,” however, rebalances and ends the album with calm clarity. At nearly ten minutes, it is the perfect track for agnostics or the religiously weary among us, as Callahan simply croons, over and over, “It’s time to put God away.” At no point does it feel repetitive, even if that’s exactly what it is.
Whoever made the term “singer-songwriter” sound derogatory never listened to anything in the Callahan canon. Shame on that unwise critic.