Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Few songwriters have Bill Callahan’s eye for wry detail: “Like motel curtains, we never really met,” the singer-songwriter declares on “Angela,” using his weather-worn baritone. On his first studio album in five years—an unusually long gap for Callahan—one of the enduring voices in alternative music continues to pare back the extraneous in his sound. A noise musician and mighty mumbler when he broke through under the moniker of Smog in the early 1990s, Callahan now favors minimal indie-folk brushstrokes such as a guitar strum, a sighing pedal steel guitar, or simply barely audible room ambience. The 20 songs here insinuate themselves with bittersweet melodies and a conversational tone, and they’re a strong reminder of Callahan's dry sense of humor: “The panic room is now a nursery,” the recently married new father sings on “Son of the Sea.” But if he’s comparatively settled in life, Callahan still knows how to hit an unnerving note with a matter-of-fact ease.

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