Release Date: Sep 4, 2020
Record label: Drag City
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Gold Record sees Bill Callahan return with his second album in as many years, building on the success of last year's acclaimed Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest. He may be in the middle of a period of creative productivity but in terms of pace and overall flow, Gold Record sees him at his most horizontal as he delivers another set of unhurried, in-character narratives to luxuriate in. Opening track Pigeons shows how he continues to be a deft, distinctive and magnetic wordsmith, as he imagines himself as a limousine driver transporting a newly-married couple to an unnamed destination.
More than two decades into his career, he is a master of throwing the listener for a loop: a king of small grand gestures. As Smog in the 1990s, he drifted from lo-fi musicianship into gentle Americana, but with a misanthropic edge which shot gentle ballads through with shades of black. Whether making a chorus of his own album's catalogue number, collaborating on an industrial soundtrack with Scott Walker , releasing a dub reggae version of his album or ditching his alias entirely and working under his government name, there has always been more to Callahan than meets the eye.
Bill Callahan fans had to wait six years for Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, an album filled with revealing, gorgeously written songs that more than rewarded listeners' patience. Just over a year later, he returned with Gold Record, a set of songs whose title reflects their quality, if perhaps not their commercial prospects. While on tour for Shepherd, Callahan continued that album's creative momentum, finishing up some old songs and writing some new ones along the way.
A man goes to the driveway to try and start his car. The engine keeps turning over but it won't catch. An older man runs out from across the street and tells the younger one that cranking it more will only make things worse. He invites the younger man in for a beer, which turns into dinner with the older man and his wife.
Bill Callahan is a fantastic songwriter, but he cannot write himself into just anyone. His characters are wry and weary middle-aged men, aware of their limitations and increasingly at peace with them. In short, they're basically Callahan if two or three things were different, if he took a different profession or lived in a different neighbourhood, straddling the line between "write what you know" and escapist fantasy.
Who is Bill Callahan? "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash," he personates amidst the opening notes of "Pigeons," where the patiently talk-singing poet inhabits an old man driving newlyweds around in a white limousine, administering wisdom: "When you are dating, you only see each other/ And the rest of us can go to hell/ But when you are married, you're married to the whole wide world. " It's gold-standard lyricism from the prolific Austinite, replete with out-of-the-ordinary details and smirking wordsmithery. At the song's end, he reveals his name again: this time, "L.
In June 2019, Bill Callahan released Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest. His sixth album since dropping the Smog pseudonym and his 17th in total, it was another high in a career that hadn't had much in the way of lows. The songs were just as affecting as they'd always been but here was a Bill Callahan we hadn't seen before. Shepherd… still had that river-deep baritone and those trademark characters, but it also spoke of a man finally content with his lot after three decades at the indie coalface.
Preoccupied with the imponderabilia of day to day living and keen to give breathing space to domestic minutiae and small talk, Bill Callahan's Gold Record is generous with its simplicity and hope, and ambitious in its self-assuredness. Callahan's vocals are closer and more intimate than ever, taking on a homeward bound languor that is quite a turn-on and is unmistakably himself. His trademark omniscient narration stretches across the acoustic album, which is told with a dash of Ennio Morricone, a quarter ounce each of John Barry and Harry Nilsson, and topped with Bill Fay and La Monte Young.