FolkWorld #46 11/2011
© David Hintz

Outsider Folk Music

Bill Callahan @ Rock N Roll Hotel, Washington DC, July 13, 2011.

Oh, the guilt. How could I know of Bill Callahan all these years and yet failed to have seen him live or own any of his music? He even operates right in my wheelhouse of outsider folk music and accessible experimental music. |

Well, time to catch up tonight and wedge in between the denizens of the Rock'n'Roll Hotel in this sold out show. Callahan used to perform under the moniker Smog and seemed to do a lot of well known songs that may go back to that era along with recent material under his own name. No matter, as whatever he chose sounded great to me and the rest of the audience.

Callahan played acoustic guitar and a bit of harmonica. He had a drummer who laid down simple percussion patterns underneath the music. He also had an electric guitarist who laid down wild crazy guitar runs all over the place--on top, in the middle, underneath--Glorious psychedelic moves creating loads of exciting sounds while allowing plenty of room for the vocals and acoustic guitar.

And Callahan's rich baritone is a marvel, but actually the marvel is how he uses every tool at his disposal and with his band to bring forward these rich, vibrant songs. Even his harmonica playing is understated and used to create nice textures and not just blare away in shrill annoying blasts. The second cut, "Baby's Breath" was crazy good with its tempo adjustments and powerful lyrics.

The set goes over well with this adoring crowd and were it not for the usual claustrophobia I get at Rock'n'Roll Hotel sellouts, this was spectacular for me as well. I could wax on, but I have someone's back catalog to look through before I plan some purchases.

First published @

Photo Credits: (1) Bill Callahan (unknown).

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