Sometimes, a change of scenery can make all the difference. Usually, it takes that shock of alteration, that feeling of being a fish out of water, to trigger something. Well, what happens when it’s a return to your old stomping grounds? For Bill Callahan — someone who has prided himself on delivering music at its most sincere level-moving and recording music back in Texas was just the trick. Whether it’s those big, sweeping productions or just the fact that these same strings are being used to pull at your very own heartstrings, Callahan has delivered one of his best albums to date.
For one, his voice sounds richly developed. Sure, the genuine and all-his-own speaking delivery is still intact but when he actually lets loose and sings, it’s something glorious. On the album’s sweeping, tender closer, “Faith/Void,” Callahan is at his weakest state, questioning the very same beliefs he has followed for so long. With a thumping organ and rousing orchestra, Callahan then allows for the guitar to push through. The result is a fierce piece of music that is utterly excellent.
What makes Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle such a moving listen is just how warm it feels. Even at his most cryptic and downtrodden, Callahan sounds as if he is speaking directly to you; re-telling sordid tales of grief and lore with the most magnificent songwriting possible. This is a sad listen but it’s re-told in such a manner that it could be deemed uplifting, maybe even make you wish you were an eagle or something.
“Eid Ma Clack Shaw” is a stomping piano and bass duet that features some of Callahan’s best singing and it’s filled with direct and earnest lyrics. He asks, “Oh, show me the way, to shake a memory” and even as he is recounting how haunting dreams kept him up at night, it’s as if we all want to forget them along with him. Later, on “My Friend,” Callahan showcases his darker side with rumbling crescendos and a dark drawl that could make anyone shiver. Even when friends argue, this can mean partners as well, there is always that underlying truth that unites us all and Callahan hits home with his tree metaphor. Ultimately, he sings, “It was not written down/so I’ll tell you now/I will always love you…my friend.”
Honestly, the aforementioned strings are the sealant and glue that holds everything together and they are, to be succinct, gorgeous. On “All Thoughts Are Prey to Some Beast” they are quick and flash in and out, like something out of Ys and on “The Wind and the Dove” they are culturally-evoking with their Middle-eastern vibe. They roll and swirl as if they are tumbleweeds blowing by and they allow the music to ebb and flow with superb ease.
Nothing is as lush and captivating as the opener, “Jim Cain,” a semi-autobiography that portrays a restful Callahan with an open heart. There’s some sparkling guitar here, growing, towering stings there and Callahan’s blunt and forward singing everywhere. He sings, “I used to be darker, then I got lighter, then I got dark again” and in the meantime, the “darks” are portrayed with low, diminished chords, while the “lights” are shrill and somewhat harmonic. The ability to manipulate his words and sounds in this manner is brilliant.
Somewhere along the way, Callahan heeded someone’s advice to record in his home state again. Soon after, everything has followed suit and he’s recalled his better days as Smog. But on this new album, Callahan has delivered a stunning gem. He’s resonating some true beauty here; entirely lost in his nostalgic feelings and openly retrospective about where he has been, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle is absolutely beautiful.