Bill Callahan’s “Sycamore” exemplifies the kind of song that completely derails your intention to listen to a full album. I swear, I still fully believe that Woke On A Whaleheart is a brilliant album, but when you put “Sycamore” fourth (right after the stellar “Diamond Dancer,” too) on it, you’re basically asking a listener raised on CD’s to listen to the first four songs on the album over and over.
The song starts out with the looping, swirling, complicated-but-not guitar lick that Callahan comes back to again and again, and then straight into the lyrics:
There’s sap in the trees if you tap ’em
There’s blood on the seas–if you map ’em
Christian, if you see your papa–tell ‘im I love ‘im
And he goes from there, short pithy sayings that make you feel so much like he owns his lyrics, like he can pull them off and make them amazing and no one else could. He’s like a one man mythos every time out, and “Sycamore” is no exception.
Other than that, you’ve got the basic drumbeat, understated gospel backing vocals (how often can someone say that?), and lyrics that just continue to somehow be killer and yet not wordy at all. Callahan doing “basic” equals simple that defies you to write something so great. He’s also got the guitar solo that fits somewhere between caffeinated country and the cherry music from Mr. Do!, a man playing guitar that sounds like 8-bit video games…and also, aw hell. Eff the critic-speak.
You know what? It’s just a damn good song. A great song. The one song that I remembered from the time I saw him open for Joanna Newsom to the time the album came out.
Simple, complex, catchy, twangy, clean.
I’ve got about 10000 songs in iTunes, and about ten of them have made the “Perfect” playlist. This is one of them.