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10th February 2014

Live: Bill Callahan

Callahan’s understated vocals mesmerise and provide a compelling consistency

3rd February

The Ritz


For me, Bill Callahan exists in isolation. I could never place his music, which sounds as if it could have been made any time in the past fifty years. His appearance doesn’t give anything away. If he hadn’t any grey in his hair, I wouldn’t balk if you told me he was twenty years younger than he is. I couldn’t even imagine what his fans would be like. On waiting for him to appear on stage, he still felt hard to pin down. There was an ancient man with long white hair reading the Guardian as I waited, and a group of children around the age of 13 stood patiently next to me in skater hoodies.

As he played, it was clear there’s something subtley iconoclastic about Callahan. Whilst his music is soft 70s Americana, his almost gravelly vocals lend it an edge that prevents it from feeling too stiff or dated. The occasional diversions in his songs in the form of stops and starts and unexpected guitar parts offer an intriguing alternative route to music that could otherwise seem middle of the road. These diversions don’t jolt, and Callahan’s understated vocals mesmerise and provide a compelling consistency.

‘Drover,’ sounds like a train cutting through an old, lost America, with a harmonica for its horn and a guitar for the rushing wheels driving the rhythm forward. ‘Spring’ from Callahan’s new album, Dream River, fortunately does away with the jazz flute live therefore Callahan alone to make the refrain, “All I wanna do is make love to you,” sound as seedy as it does on record. Whilst each song is a treat to watch, the mundane and soft rock elements of his music become more pronounced as the songs are performed one after the other. His appeal lies largely in his cool, calm vocals, and Callahan is better suited to a late night whisper on a record player rather than a two hour live experience.

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