Monday, March 29, 2010

Album Review: Bill Callahan – Rough Travel for a Rare Thing


This is Bill Callahan’s first live album, and is released on vinyl or download only. So no CD. I’m not convinced of the merits of live albums, or downloads for that matter. However it’s a testament to my contrary nature that I purchased this download.

The music contained within is very strong for the most part, Callahan and his band play a tight set, with selections from the last Smog album – A River Ain’t Too Much To Love, and others reaching back as far as Wild Love. The concert took place before Callahan’s last album so nothing from that slab of genius in this set.

Our Anniversary opens the set, which is a strong song based on a repeating guitar pattern. The pace picks up with the toe-tapping Diamond Dancer, which takes a simple refrain and an acoustic guitar and combines them to great effect. Bowery is slower, building up gradually. Bill sounds in great voice here, and there’s something in the melody (and maybe in the lyrical content) that reminds me of Tom Waits.

There is a prominent fiddle right throughout this album which is something of an acquired taste, and it’s never more prominent than on Held. For anyone used to the original Smog version on Knock Knock this will take some getting used to as the electric guitar riff is replaced by the aforementioned droning fiddle.

More successful are some of the later tracks, like In The Pines (which sounds fuller than the original version), Cold-Blooded Old Times (with a touch of Gomez in the guitar riff!) and Rock Bottom Riser. The album finishes up with Bathysphere, which also works well in this context.
All in all it’s a nice-sounding album but inessential in my opinion.