Each time the opening track off Bill Callahan’s brilliant new LP, Apocalypse, hits the 1:17 mark, I’ve found myself internally repeating a tired cliché: He’s killing it. And so, with great pleasure, a choice quote from Sasha Frere-Jones’ profile on the Austin singer-songwriter in the New Yorker jumped out at me this week: “I think I killed it on ‘Drover,’” admitted Callahan, in response to a question that Frere-Jones “immediately regretted” asking about his oeuvre.
With a little help from Neal Morgan’s nuanced percussion, this acoustic guitar-driven, peripheral electric guitar and violin-accented ode to a stark, “wild, wild country” does just that, though. As with much of Callahan’s best work, the cattle drover narrator carves sentiment out of stone, leaving the tune’s best moments (the aforementioned hiss/tsk part, the foreboding ticking metronome at 3:05, etc.) hard to articulate beyond employing a simple phrase. If I could borrow a lyric from the song itself: “It takes a strong, strong it breaks a strong, strong mind.”