In contrast to the clockwork brackishness of Saturday-night Sauchiehall Street, Celtic Connections winds down with a set from Drag City enigma, Bill Callahan in the womb of the O2 ABC. Support arrives in the guise of cinematic Canadian Country from The Deep Dark Woods and gritty Anglo-American Folk from Cath and Phil Tyler.
Saskatonian Deep Dark Woods frontman Ryan Boldt leads us through a scenic Alt-Country journey with a captivating, pensive drawl. Contemplative, and even mournful at times, the songs have an transportative quality. Wistful licks, hammond organ and forlorn harmonies quickly take hold and you’re no longer in Glasgow.
Cath and Phil Tyler deliver an intimate, largely a cappella performance of raw, modern folk. Sacred harp singing sails over lilting mountain banjo and brooding acoustic guitar, supported by absolute conviction to the narrative of the pieces. At times the austere accompaniment means the vocals take a bit of a wander, though the sincerity of the performance and immaculate musicianship from Phil makes for an unmissable set.
Bill Callahan appears, stoic and bolo-tied, choosing to meditate mostly on newest album, Dream River with his minimalist band. Callahan’s unmistakable oaky baritone is surrounded by his own determined rhythm playing, ruminative lead, solid bass and stripped-down kit. Only daring to revisit the playfulness of ex alter-ego Smog once, toe-tapping crowd-pleaser Dress Sexy at my Funeral get’s a well-received makeover in keeping with restraint of his newer work.
Impellent Javelin Unlanding melts into the spurned sadness of Jim Cain, showing the scope of his writing early. Major-key Drover is dissonantly tinted with defiant blasts of harmonica as the set visits songs from Apocalypse, before arriving back at Dream River with Small Plane and trademark lyrical poignancy -–‘You used to take me up/I watched and learned how to fly/No navigation system beyond our eyes’.
Audience interaction is scant, so we’re afforded only a veiled view of his elusive inward patriotism. The performance is collagic, rich in texture and unafraid of sparseness when required. The reverent crowd are treated to Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle highlight Too Many Birds as an encore, before he calls time.
It’s an incredible performance; though, with a voice like Bill’s, you could sing the alphabet and still bring the house down.