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Bill’s got his groove back 

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click to enlarge Bill Callahan

Bill Callahan

Oto Gillen

Bill Callahan’s recent album Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (Drag City) contains the singer-songwriter’s first set of new songs in six years. That’s a long time for a guy who made 15 LPs in the 23 years between Sewn to the Sea, his first full-length as Smog, and Dream River, which came out in 2013 (followed by a dub companion, Have Fun With God, the next year). But during a series of major life events—marriage, the birth of a son, the loss of a parent—Callahan experienced a long dry stretch. The songs he’s written since the drought ended are much more nakedly personal than anything he’s recorded before: “What Comes After Certainty” embraces the pursuit of happiness, “747” tries to see the world through a new child’s eyes, and “Writing” celebrates the end of his writer’s block (while “Son of the Sea” considers the part that new parenthood had in temporarily stopping his creative flow). The new Bill serves up straightforward advice about accepting responsibility and coping with the cycles of life, but he hasn’t entirely let go of the absurdity and bone-dry humor that animated old songs such as “I Am Star Wars” and “Ex-Con.” For example, “The Ballad of the Hulk” tells a story about relinquishing toxic ways within a tall tale about knowing Bruce Banner’s tailor. Never a slave to a particular style, Callahan changes his sound to suit his material, and here he’s replaced the phased guitars, echo-soaked flute, and layered grooves of Dream River with predominantly acoustic instrumentation that enhances the songs’ intimacy. Accompanying him on this tour are three musicians who played on Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest: guitarist Matt Kinsey, drummer Adam Jones, and bassist-producer Brian Beattie.   v

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