Music review: Bill Callahan, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Bill Callaghan is a quietly charismatic figurehead of grungey Americana
Bill Callaghan is a quietly charismatic figurehead of grungey Americana
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THERE is a campfire intimacy and droll, downbeat tone to Bill Callahan’s music which is not particularly suited to such a grand venue as the Usher Hall, but over the last two decades this quietly charismatic figurehead of grungey Americana has steadily outgrown the club environment in which he cut his teeth and now his distinctive, innately soothing baritone rumble fills much larger spaces.

Bill Callahan, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ***

Not that Callahan has particularly adapted his style or stage presence – the listener just has to lean in further to meet him now. Even his backing band kept it mostly soft and subtle, apart from a handful of moments where a quiet storm was in order to communicate his more expansive themes.

America! - where “everyone is allowed a past they don’t care to mention” - is a relatively new staple of his set which namechecks his nation’s musical soldiers, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. He also paid tribute to his late contemporary, David Berman, “a man among men,” covering The Silver Jews song Trains Across the Sea.

Let’s Move to the Country was an old bluegrass boogie favourite from his days recording as Smog. Next, he moved from the dusky desert blues of Camels to the dustbowl, presenting a more elemental vision of the travails of rural America on Drover (“I set my watch against the city clock… it was way off”), before heading back to the coast for Son of the Sea, where his everyday anxieties about providing for a family yielded the best line of the set: “the panic room is now a nursery”.

FIONA SHEPHERD