Ordinary life, reimagined
A man lays in bed while hearing his wife make breakfast in the kitchen. He ponders whether to leave his sheets, as he can picture the meal already. In haste, his wife lays burden on the man and the relationship becomes dysfunctional. As she leaves him, his only memory is of her making him his favorite meal of the day, breakfast.
Bill Callahan’s music captures ordinary life in a not so ordinary state. “Breakfast,” from his new album Gold Record, grasps domestic life with elegance. It is a prime example of how Callahan remains able to handle concrete events with a gentle approach.
If one listened to each song in order, a narrative unfolds slowly. This album’s story begins with cynicism and ends with the homestyle warmth of other folk music. The first track “Pigeons” imagines a meandering newlywed couple who asks for advice, which Callahan is ambivalent about offering. “Another Song” paints a man who is restricted by reality, though yearns for more. Possibly wanting more of his own life, “the moon can make false love feel true” is what he yearns for (“35”).
“Protest Song” is a remark against a pop singer who soothes his audience with false platitudes of deceit. Underlaid with a man’s perspective on marriage, this song imagines the falsities of a professional life, which then merges into domestic life with “Breakfast.” The sweet older man in this story makes Callahan come alive despite being anchored by his guitar.
“The Mackenzies” is a deceiving image of a classic American folk singer. But if one breaches the surface for what the song is telling them, a whimsical narrative plays out. Exploring a new idea musically can be difficult, though Callahan’s funny asides make the song more than an audio file, but an exploration for people as the listener.
“Let’s Move To The Country” is a rework of Callahan’s version from 1999. Whereas it used to follow a nervous young couple into what they might be, this version focuses on using nostalgia for the present: “Let’s move to the country just me and you.” Callahan’s textured vocals are synchronized with a beautiful harmony of echoed acoustic guitar to make a budding folk classic.
“Cowboy” seems to follow the rhythm of a lone cowboy and his steed (predictably); slow repeated movements ease this song to the end as if trotting on an open plain. A song that tackles more roots-rock attributes, this album finally diversifies slightly. Nevertheless, it follows a story and draws people in. Following this tale is “Ry Cooder,” which might be the most dimwitted track Callahan has released, yet it comes alive with punchlines and asides that add depth to the music. But it is the final leap in the album, as “As I Wander” ties the burdens of reality back into his music, which combines Callahan’s very solemn joie de vivre into his music.
This album may seem like a typical earnest American man with a low voice. But if people listen to each note–the texture in the vocals, the unfolding narratives, the humorous asides–it proves that this album is a rhythmic journey of ordinary life with quirky storytelling. Callahan’s sentiment and depth in Gold Record create eccentric folk music that isolates the complexities of human emotion.