Celtic Connections review: Bill Callahan, Glasgow

Callahan radiates a quiet, natural charisma

Callahan radiates a quiet, natural charisma

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Bill Callahan is a man of few words but he uses them wisely, in song and in person. His capacity Celtic Connections crowd was complimented on being a lovely audience. Then, after the briefest of pauses: “much better than I was expecting.”

Bill Callahan - ABC, Glasgow

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With his deadpan demeanour and dolorous baritone, one could be forgiven for thinking Callahan is a character who lopes through life with low expectations.

But no: Dress Sexy At My Funeral, one of his greatest songs, casually dropped into this set in its early “fun” stages, is a specific petition to his future grieving spouse to big him up beyond the grave, mordantly humorous, but with traces of tenderness and romance.

These days this cult Americana hero specialises more in the romance of the Big Country, and this set was dominated by epic slowburn psych country odysseys such as America, One Fine Morning and Drover, all embellished with Matt Kinsey’s hypnotic wah-wah guitar playing.

With an equally ruminative rhythm section in tow, this made for a highly introverted band performance.

Fortunately, Callahan radiates a quiet, natural charisma and his voice is quite an instrument, its sonorous qualities coupled with an unsually minimalist expression – holding a note for anything longer than a beat or two would be sheer indulgence and there was plenty of that elsewhere in the set as it doggedly trailed on towards sunset, with an idiosyncratic plangent version of Leon Russell’s A Song For You being the only scenic distraction.

Seen on 01.02.14

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