Amid the rumble of traffic, crowded streets, and general persistent din of big city life, it can be challenging to find a moment of calm in New York. So it seemed like a peculiar choice when the enigmatic singer-songwriter Bill Callahan said he was interested in playing in a community garden for a Field Recording video WNYC’s Soundcheck co-produced with NPR Music. You could easily envision Callahan’s plaintive music and deep, detached voice getting lost in that noisy clutter.
But in fact, the lush 6th & B Community Garden in the East Village was just the spot for Callahan’s intimate and eerily transfixing performance. Recording previously as Smog, and now simply under his own name, Callahan writes dark, frequently anguished songs inflected with a bleak sense of doom. And yet, there’s actually a surprisingly warm, pastoral quality to his words, and a comforting voice in his sly delivery.
Surrounded by a rich canopy of greenery, ornamented flower beds, and even a small pond full of turtles, Callahan quietly finger-picked “Small Plane,” a song from his new record Dream River (out Sept. 17). And while sounds from just outside the garden’s tall gates trickled in, all those distractions of the city just outside the gates melted away.