Bill Callahan – Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest
“The master of reiki, he waved his hands over me, And said I eat too much steak, And hold on too long to ancient takes, And both are so hard on my heart”. Bill Callahan’s first album in five years is full of dry humour and no little wisdom. Things have changed since the last time we heard from him. “I got married”, he tells us. “To my wife”. Phew. He’s also had a son. “Giving birth nearly killed me”, he confides, probably only half jokingly. It’s a quieter album than the last few. And more free form. This is not the place to come and meet up with chorus and verse. And middle eight is nowhere to be seen. Instead, a number of the songs seem fragmentary, almost extemporaneous. Yet never slight. For an indie legend with mild country leanings, there’s a hint of jazz in the air this time around. But the lyrics remain as beguiling as ever. There are some lovely similes. “Like two wrestlers, I am mostly still”. Some poignant words about death. “I made a circle, I guess, When I folded her hands across her chest”. And more than a few thoughts about matters of the heart. “True love is not magic, It’s certainty, And what comes after certainty? A world of mystery”. I wonder what the Reiki master would say?
The National – I Am Easy To Find
I Am Easy To Find, The National’s new album and accompanying Mike Mills-directed film, is a meditation on life. The comings and the goings. The loving and the longing. The hopes and the fears. There’s a strong sense of nostalgic melancholy. How you felt when you lied to your mother for the first time. When you realized your children were no longer children. When you lost a person you love and the days became almost unbearable. But it’s not a miserable album. As in life too, there’s the presence of uplifting beauty. In the swelling of the strings. The choir of voices. And the gentle cadence of the melodies on so many of the songs. In contrast to other albums, Matt Berninger’s voice is not always the core vocal. There are female voices, often female leads, on all of the songs. So we’re still witness to Berninger’s usual authenticity when he tells us he’s been “binging hard on Annette Bening” and “listening to R.E.M. again”. But hearing a woman sing a line such as “Lay down in the doorway in front of me, Make yourself impossible for me to leave” brings a very different meaning to the scene. When you’re stuck in the middle of life, it’s tempting to think that the last thing you need is a 68-minute slightly melancholic meditation on it. But you’d be wrong. Taking time to reflect on life is always a good thing. And appreciating the beauty that’s present in it isn’t just a good thing, it’s what gives life its very meaning with all its comings and goings, loving and longing, and hopes and fears.