Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Drover” by Bill Callahan from his 2011 release, Apocalypse, released by Drag City.
Bill Callahan has been recording and performing under the band name Smog since 1990 until his 2005 release, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love. Although he grew up in Maryland, he has lived all over the States from South Carolina to New York, and now currently resides in Austin, Texas. He started his songwriting career at age 22, and over time the themes have evolved, and his voice went from defiantly high pitched to a wonderful acceptance of his god-given baritone. His 15th album, Apocalypse, is a great attribution to his professional evolution and finds him stopping and thinking and acting more deliberately in his production and songwriting, leading to a calmer, more thoughtful Bill Callahan. Callahan evokes mystery and depth, nad his songwriting is rife with references and metaphors yet to be understood and likely never to be explained in the sparse interviews given by this press-shy artist.
What’s left to dissect is really the music itself, and today’s featured song, “Dover,” the opening track to Bill Callahan’s latest release, is a doozy. In a minor key and over a simple two-chord melody, Callahan sings a narrative about a cattle drive. Even more so, it is a narrative from a lonely cowboy protecting his cattle. The song is vast much like the landscape it’s emulating. The strings chime in adding a depth of space, and the charging forward rhythm emulates a resilience of motion and drive. “The real people went away,” he sings. “The one thing about this wild, wild, country, it takes a strong, strong -- breaks a strong strong mind. Anything less, anything less, I’m wasting my time.” And then, this poignant ballad becomes a questionably paranoid, simultaneous grand piece about the cattle turning on him.
If you’re lucky enough to see Bill Callahan live, please do. His act is indescribable and his talent is without question. Currently on tour, his next stop in Seattle will be at the end of June. Check out a complete list of tour dates here. In the meantime, check out this extended video from a couple of years ago for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series: