Bill Callahan: “The Sing”

Photo by Hanly Banks

This week Song of the Day will be counting down some of our favorite overlooked Studio 1A live sessions from 2013.

Quiet, somber, introspective–Bill Callahan is all of these things, and an intimidating presence. There’s his lengthy discography–albums under his own name and his old moniker Smog–that features intense ruminations and avant-garde left-turns. His deep, rumbling baritone is an acquired taste, as is his p-u-n-c-t-u-a-t-e-d singing style that draws out lyrics like a piece of taffy.

But Callahan has a wicked sense of humor that peeks out in unlikely places. A publicity photo for this year’s Dream River even features the reclusive singer cracking a toothy smile. Callahan has lived in Austin for the past few years, and unsurprisingly, he’s mellowed out. His songs have rounder edges but are more forceful, and as he approaches age fifty, he’s making his best work. Callahan set out to craft a nocturnal album with Dream River, and he succeeded wildly. It’s the kind of record you can put on before bed and just let it carry you into another frame of mind. The album’s lead cut, “The Sing,” features some of Callahan’s most potent lyrics: “The only words I’ve said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you’ / beer / thank you…” There is an entire universe of meaning in the pauses between those weathered words, and Callahan is wise to let them stand naked against the rest of the song.

The singer stopped by KUTX’s Studio 1A earlier this year for a performance that left many of us slack-jawed and at a loss for words. Callahan, on the other hand, picked his words carefully during the interview, teasing out his process with a chuckle: “Limitations are my most motivating factor in my life.” The limited musical palette–dreamy washes of guitar, sparse hand percussion, and melodic bass playing–allowed Callahan all the space he needed to bring “The Sing” to life in our studios. Nestled between ACL Fest and Fun Fun Fun Fest, the session’s quiet gravity was a welcome oasis in a busy season.

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