Album: Bill Callahan – Gold Record review

by Stewart Cheetham

Bill Callahan is a songwriter who is more at peace with the world than he has ever been –  tackling the themes of fatherhood and nurturing his son – as Gold Record thematically continues where the sprawling Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest left off just fifteen months ago.

With more straight forward story telling, but less of an overarching flow than its predecessor, Gold Record is a collection of snapshots, as Callahan navigates the American landscape. And remarkably consistent throughout, the 54 year old casts his lens over mundane themes – avoiding the neighbours, watching TV and making breakfast – which are somehow engrossing and now emblematic of his later works.

There are also times where Callahan takes on various characters. On the opener, Pigeons, he assumes the role of a limousine chauffeur – driving a pair of newlyweds over the border to their honeymoon in Mexico. He also offers advice to the young couple as a wise old man – ‘When you are dating, you only see each other And the rest of us can go to hell / But when you are married / you’re married to the whole wide world’ – while on The Mackenzies, he’s now the young man who has been taken in by his neighbours who are looking to replace their son who passed away; Callahan welcoming the fatherly love of the old man next door, in the same way that he seems to dote on his own young son.

Callahan also revisits the 1999 album, Knock Knock, that he recorded under the Smog moniker for a version of Let’s Move to the Country, however, this time filling in the blanks to form the line – ‘Let’s start a family / Let’s have a baby / Or maybe two’ – in yet another thematic thread that links Gold Record to his last LP, and a further nod to the life he now embracingly lives.

While Callahan is unlikely to score an actual gold disc anytime soon, Gold Record furthers his case as one of the great all-time songsmiths, and although he drops in ‘Hello I’m Johnny Cash’ and ‘Sincerely, L Cohen’ in the opening track as a playful dig at those who make the comparison – there is a reason that his name is regularly mentioned alongside these songwriting heavyweights.

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