Happiness, is an emotion that eludes many. Our own definitions of what happiness can be, can be the difference between finding it and never experiencing it. When you listen to Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, the new double album from Bill Callahan-you realize that he’s found happiness. Happiness in married life, in a domestic world from a small home filled with the laughter of a small child. Happiness through the eyes of Callahan and his signature baritone means you’re getting some of the best written songs you may hear all year.
The words here are something else. The music, it’s Callahan at his loosest. On the lyrical side, the words feel personal, like that of conversations between lovers or perhaps a mother and a father. All of the lyrics on this record are without pretension, they’re honest and stark, yet that’s where Callahan is and its all wonderful. Musically, the album has vignettes of time and straightforward folk that comes from a storyteller embarking on a new chapter in his life.
Because there’s so much to unpack, because this album contains twenty tracks, it’s best to focus on the highlights. “Black Dog on the Beach” eludes to so much, yet the music is freewheeling and open ended in many ways. The baritone of Callahan’s voice sprinkles above acoustic guitar and pedal steel like a soft dream being narrated instead of witnessed. “Writing” is tender in its approach, yet it holds weight in its pacing. The guitar searches for the note, the upright bass wiggles out tones, yet it works like you wouldn’t expect. The way the song has the sound of an early staged demo, but it’s fully fleshed shows Callahan in a new light.
While “Watch Me Get Married” is a light-hearted gem, how “What Comes After Certainty” has the penned sorcery of honesty and from the heart feelings or even how “Call Me Anything” touches with Southern charm, it’s all Callahan in a new place and it’s all wondrous. There’s plenty of searching here, through a new head space where the unknown world of happiness for the first time must be explored, even if Callahan is worried about what’s around the bend. The freedom in his songwriting here, the way the songs have nuances of early versions or how they all sound like they’re coming from a truly free mind, the album is a beautiful embrace of whatever happiness means.
Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest can be streamed on all streaming sites, it can be purchased in all digital store fronts or physically directly from Drag City Records. Bill Callahan is on tour beginning tonight in Detroit, MI at the Museum of Contemporary Art until October 13 in Gothenburg, Sweden at Pustervik. A complete listing of his upcoming tour dates can be accessed here.
Image Credits: Photo by Hanly Banks Callahan.