Local 506—Back in 2000, when the singer now known as Bill Callahan was still recording under the name Smog (but before he was briefly named (smog)), he wrote a relatively playful country-rock rollick about dying, lust and relishing one after the other sets in: "Dress sexy at my funeral/ my good wife/ dress sexy at my funeral/ for the first time in your life," he opened in the thick, stately baritone he's perfected during two decades of lyrical darkness. "Wear your blouse undone to here/ and your skirt split up to there/ Oh, dress sexy at my funeral/ my good wife." Callahan encouraged his widow to regale the graveside gatherers with tales of their sexcapades—once on railroad tracks, then in the dimly lit rear room of a bar, even on a nearby tombstone. He hoped that all of those little sexual deaths—les petits morts, as the French would say—would trump even his ultimate end.
In April, Callahan issued Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, the second LP under his given name and a record that made that funny, little 9-year-old tune burn like a branding iron. Muted, measured and careful, the bulk of Eagle catalogues Callahan's suffering, one assumes, after his break-up with wild-voiced harpist Joanna Newsom. "Love is the king of the beasts/ And when it gets hungry, it must kill to eat," he stoically sings on "Eid Ma Clack Shaw," again suggesting that love and its ways are bigger than life. One song earlier, he's even made preparations for his absence, leaving the world memos of things that need to be said should he not return. "Done me in," he closes, exhaling in an end-of-everything kind of way.
But Eagle's lovesickness is balanced by sweetness and resolve: He enjoyed what he had, and remembers it fondly if painfully. On "Faith/ Void," he repeats "It's time to put God away" a few dozen times over a steely nine-minute closing country waltz. The song seems less about religion, though, and more about self-dependence. That is, his life has to be bigger than anyone else's love or light. Callahan has been recording since the late '80s, and this is one of the high-water marks of his career and the year in music. So, yes, he does OK for himself. Lights open and back Callahan at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10-$12. See www.local506.com. —Grayson Currin