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CD Review: Bill Callahan's Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle

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The Deal: Mesmerizing flights from ex-Smog Bill Callahan.

The Good: You just know with the certainty of sunrises that 20 years from now Bill Callahan will be celebrated with next-generation tribute records and pricey retrospective packages (c.f., one of his inspirations, Jandek) – and you can be just as sure another marvelous record now will do diddly to change his current cult status. So be it. After Smog's lo-fi experimental beginnings, the differences in Callahan's full lengths (14!) are all about nuance, since his enigmatic but emotionally-compelling songs are so singular: simple repetitive chord progressions, deep-well baritone and deadpan delivery, pitch-black humor and confessions that draw you in but still keep the singer stealthed in mystery. Eagle is predominantly acoustic, but Callahan gussies it up with sweeping orchestral strings and horns – call it Indiepolitan, as he hints at gothic country while sidestepping its tropes. And his voyeuristic and occasionally animistic view of the world remains intact: The equine-obsessed Callahan practically goes full horsey on the cantering "Eid Ma Clack Shaw" while "Eleanor Rigby" cello strokes add sinister undertow; the melody of "Rococo Zephyr" recalls "Teenage Spaceship," Knock Knock's classic paean to alienation turned here to grudging acceptance; Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg contributes Middle Eastern-flavored Wurlitzer swirls to "The Wind and the Dove," and the incantation "It's time to put God away" on "Faith/Void" reads like a psalm for the incredulous.

The Bad: The brief, aimless instrumental "Invocation of Ratiocination" is the first time in a long time I've thought "pointless" and Callahan in the same sentence.

The Verdict: Why not beat the tribute/retrospective rush?

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