keeps gaining strength by paring down his music. The austere new Dream River
(Drag City), on which he grapples with the most basic concerns of this life we’re stuck in, combines sparsely strummed, phase-treated electric guitar, lean grooves on bass and percussion (which often consists only of congas or claves), extrapolations and interjections by guitarist Matt Kinsey, and occasional embellishments of sweet flute or mournful fiddle. Callahan turns his awkward vocal phrasing into a powerful weapon: he’ll deliver most of his words in his usual gawky manner, then single out a particular word or phrase with a melodic dip, a rise in pitch, or an emotional swell that hits like an anvil. In “Ride My Arrow” he sings quietly of an eagle towing a small animal, then drops an unexpected hooky flourish on the line “Alive and enjoying the ride.” His songs remain mostly cryptic, but that said, they’ve never been so forthright—it’s not hard to arrive at the meaning of the ballad “Small Plane,” which uses flying an aircraft as a tender metaphor for devotion and trust (“Sometimes when you sleep while I take us home / That’s when I know / We really have a home”). Callahan can also surprise you with flashes of humor; on “Summer Painter,” gorgeous tune about a subsistence existence, he wryly sings, “So I split / But like a beaver is a dam builder / You never really quit.” As he whittles away the nonessential elements of his music, he’s opening up the road ahead of him. —Peter Margasak Circuit des Yeux opens.