If there were ever a music award for the best album by a softly -spoken, world-weary singer-songwriter, searching for meaning in a confused world Bon Ivor’s For Emma, Forever Ago would have been 2008’s clear winner. Not only did the album offer heartfelt songs of melancholy through his beautiful whisper, the album had a good story behind it, having been written in isolation in a log cabin after he split from his band.
As far as 2009’s winner is concerned Bill Callahan has already emerged as the deserved runaway favourite with his 13th album Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle.
In many ways Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle is one of most accomplished albums to date, definitely better than 2007’s Woke On a Whaleheart and possibly his best since Dongs of Sevotion, recorded under the Smog name he has since ditched.
Ok, so Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle was not written in a log cabin, but in terms of sincerity, passion, mood and subtlety it would have given For Emma, Forever Ago a real run for its money had it been released last year. It also has its own story of emotion, in that it is his first since breaking up with US harpist and folk singer Joanna Newsom.
Opening track ‘Jim Cain’ sets the pace well with lyrics such as “in the death of a shadow, comes a lightness of verse”. This combination of sadness and joy in a simple lyric is a major strength of Callahan.
Another strength of Callahan is subtlety, just a note here, a lyric there, kept to a minimum where necessary and then opening up into lush string arrangements that offer a well-worked contrast within the music. Dongs of Sevotion’s centrepiece ‘Bloodflow’ was typical of this and Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’s standout track ‘All Thoughts Are Prey To Some Beast’ is similarly impressive.
Other tracks, on an album of great consistency, that are worth mentioning are ‘Too Many Birds’ and ‘The Wind and the Dove’, which both conjure up images of nature to full effect. The album ends with the nine minute Faith/Void, based around the hypnotic lyric, “its time to put God away”, offering a satisfying conclusion to one of 2009’s albums of the year.
by Joe Lepper, Apr 2009