Bill Callahan

Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest

Drag City

Released: 13th June 2019

As you listen to Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest, a feeling of totality, of completeness,
steals over you, like a thief in broad daylight. Of course it does – you’re listening
to a new Bill Callahan record! The first one in almost six years! What more do you
need to complete you?
Or perhaps, after all the time, the obvious needs to be made just a little more
First, it’s a different kind of record. Bill’s now writing from somewhere beyond his
Eagle-Apocalypse-River headspace, and Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest is very much its
own beast. The songs are, by and large, shorter, and there are more of them. It took
almost all of the previous three albums to add up to that many. Plus, twenty’s a lot
of songs! But again, it goes a lot deeper than that.
After Dream River, Bill’s life went through some changes. Good changes – marriage
and a kid - but afterwards, it was suddenly harder for him to find the place where
the songs came, to make him and these new experiences over again into something to
sing. His songs have always been elusive, landing lightly between character study and
autobiography, as the singer-songwriter often does. This felt different, though. After
20 years of putting music first, he wasn’t prepared to go away from it completely.
Or was he? The lives of a newlywed, a new parent, they have so much in them – but
writing and singing, it was his old friend that had helped him along to this place
where he’d so happily arrived. Was there room for everybody? While sorting it all
out, he worked on songs every day – which meant that for a while, there were lots of
days simply confronting the void, as he measured this new life against the ones he’d
previously known.
It informed the shape of the album. Moving gradually from reflections upon the old days
in “Ballad of The Hulk” and “Young Icarus” to the immediacy of the present moment in
“Watching Me Get Married” and “Son of the Sea”, Bill traces the different life lines,
casually unwinding knotty contradictions and ambiguities with an arresting stillness.
The sense of a life thunderstruck by change infuses Shepherd In a Sheepskin Vest–
the songs wander from expressions of newfound joy and great contentment to other
snapshots, considerations of the not-joy that we all know. Unsettling dream-images and
mythic recollections are patiently received; the undertow of the past is resisted,
pulling against it instead into the present, accepting revolutions of time and the
unconscious as a natural flow.