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Terry Callier - Occasional Rain Music Album Reviews

Terry Callier - Occasional Rain Music Album Reviews
Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the winding and mystic 1972 album from the Chicago jazz and folk singer-songwriter.

Restless wanderings in and through the American ghetto, told in miniature, sung by one of America’s greatest vocalists: This was Terry Callier’s project, met at every luckless turn with institutional ambivalence and obscurity. His second album, 1972’s Occasional Rain, is his small miracle: Formally folk, affectively soul, a sprawling, psychedelic shimmer. Folk music has often struck at the heart of American self-narration, stitching legacies of violence to the natural or the mundane: Western African vocal traditions were carried over to Turtle Island by trans-Atlantic slavery, developing into call-and-answer strategies in the plantations; the words and tunes eventually finding paper. Occasional Rain makes clear the Black aesthetic connection to folk music—as progenitor, mastery, unavoidable base layer—in a collection of stories from Callier’s native Chicago. The songs collide with and deflate America, breaking open every civic myth.

Terry Callier was born in 1945 outside the Cabrini-Green housing projects, growing up with Curtis Mayfield, jazz-pianist Ramsey Lewis, and the Impressions’ Jerry Butler, all artists whose music pushed against urban despair. Callier got his start doo-wop harmonizing with a neighborhood crew, auditioned for Chess Records, and at the age of 16, penned his first single, “Look at Me Now.” His debut record, The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier, released in 1968 by the jazz label Prestige, contained several retellings of traditional folk songs—Callier’s downtempo renditions stretching the lyrics out until they were thrilling once more. That created space for the wandering that would become Callier’s lyrical metier; his early track “Golden Apples of the Sun”—a reinterpretation of a Judy Collins song that reimagines a poem by William Butler Yeats—takes its deepest breath as Callier sings of travels through quiet and hilly lands in search of a berry, who’d once called him by his name, transforming into a “glimmering girl” before disappearing into the brightening air.

After a few years of woodshedding and joining the Chicago Songwriters Workshop, Callier signed with Cadet, an imprint of Chess, where he cemented fruitful collaborations with his musical partner Larry Wade, as well as Charles Stepney, the jazz fixture and production insider known for his work on the psych-soul rock band the Rotary Connection. Stepney would go on to produce Callier’s trio of albums with Cadet: Occasional Rain, What Color is Love (1972), and I Just Can’t Help Myself (1973). That trilogy was Callier’s folk-jazz opus, Stepney’s baroque orchestration finding common cause with Callier’s voice, relieving it of certain emotional burdens, and allowing for Callier’s songwriting to take on a more disarming and complex hue.

Occasional Rain marked Callier’s move from song interpreter to songwriter. His lyrics here contain the soul staples—invocations of love, leaving home, forgetting the past—while also transgressing their boundaries with levity and bluntness: “Leather, tinker, tailor man/Anyone you meet/Here come a flunky/What a failure man.” The record is made of narrative vignettes in a jarring mix that reflects the jazz tradition of Callier’s influences, chief among them John Coltrane. “And for my openin’ line/I might try to indicate my state of mind,” begins “Ordinary Joe,” full of passionate soul squawks and non-lexical vocables—what Callier terms a “rhythm for your spirit.” Narratively, Callier preferred a first- or second-person address but his interests predominantly lay in the subjectivities of others, his oft-titular characters—Edie-D, Handsome Harry, Sister Sadie, Ordinary Joe. They move through the world in observance, making scenes, receiving lectures from racists and politicians, their interiorities kept at some distance, compelling us to walk with them.

Callier was a drifter in the Northern soul tradition; families dislocated from the American South, supplanted to urban enclaves and kept there to occasionally wish outwards. That drifter condition is informed by the insurmountability of any sort of reclamation of the lands their families died on: A relentless America, ghosted lakes atop blasted pastoral, obscured by dirt mounds and forests. If some Black musicians found reprieve in the Nubian, or the “pan-African,” or the Jovian, Callier’s characters travel to Chicago’s wastewater plant atop a Black neighborhood and back: “I just can’t wait to get to Golden Gate/Maybe that’ll straighten out my mind,” he sings on “Blues for Marcus,” with a stridency befitting someone briefly unmoored from their sanity under the conditions of modern life.

This is true of the earlier Callier, at least: In later years, it was Dar es Salaam that called out to his protagonists, after he devoted himself to Islam. To me, this is part of a single, roiling current of faith that animates Callier’s art, which is invariably about divine love. That faith is on unremitting display on Occasional Rain’s title track, a perfect four minutes on the record’s B-side. In it, sporadic showers and the designs of a conspiratorial weatherman transform into stings of ordinary sadness, relieved at once by sun and by God in the key of B. When I listen to it, I am brought back; I can’t be sure, but I believe it was my first Callier. The record was playing at a Sunday flea market in the middle of a Manchester city square; I remember how everything slowed down, the synthesizer-y yelps of the sopranos making me stop and listen.

Like many others, I first heard Callier years after the album’s recording; that day in England was less than a decade ago. This makes sense; Europe’s acid jazz and rare groove scenes rediscovered Callier in the ’80s and ’90s—in particular, What Color is Love’s nine-minute-long chamber-folk blockbuster “Dancing Girl”—leading to a career resurgence. (Callier recalls feeling totally overwhelmed playing at London’s Jazz Café in 1995 and hearing the crowd sing back every line; who knows how things might have gone had he wound up in Europe earlier, like Josephine Baker, or Count Basie, or Jimi Hendrix.)

Callier’s women also spin in and out of the observable realms, but their presence remains obsessively felt. Occasional Rain plays in love’s tributaries: The perfectly circumscribed world of a bedroom return; an alienation from a past love seen stoned on the street; a vacant stare; a comfortable place to bury one’s head. “Golden Circle,” attempts a cool fuck-you, but slips into admissions of durable interconnectedness. These are men’s feelings, perhaps, but not men’s stories, and “Trance on Sedgewick Street,” the record’s most important song, makes this plain: All of Callier’s gentle and salubrious framings are distilled into a scattered whole-relation, his characters flowing in and out of each other’s lives along the planned outlines of their city. That “trance” is both urbanicity at work and a Black response. Attuned to them from birth, Callier captures and harnesses those energies, placing them atop his childhood places, in a dynamic swell that rejects the intentional enervation of the projects.

Callier’s tool for this is his voice. It’s a simple formulation, and yet, it is no less true: It is the only thing that could hold together Occasional Rain’s dizzying jazz, soul, folk, and gospel sounds. You can feel this on the record’s “Do You Finally Need a Friend,” which stretches out and out; in an account of a couple’s long-delayed reunion, a then-27-year-old Callier takes his cues from stories of homelife, backed by the vocals of Kitty Haywood and Minnie Riperton, coalescing together into a stillness far beyond their years.

Callier excelled in speaking to these paradigmatic human emotions: “The trouble’s gone/Let’s leave our tears behind/Just rest your head/And ease your weary mind/Let’s begin again,” he sings in “Do You Finally Need a Friend.” But the seemingly universal framings are filled with surprising antagonisms: The folk platonic, “And don’t ‘ya know each little bird in the sky/Is a little bit freer than I,” infers much more than its pleasant observation. Callier often allows the unsaid to do the work for him in this way, unspooling words into doo-wop garble, from which a breathless “aha!” can escape.

Callier is cool, never too precious. He neither attempts a totalizing theory of Blackness nor an experiment in daily abjection; his goal is songwriting that moves the listener through the world. This was not, however, a humanist project, and sometimes the stolidity of white culture comes out in flashes of relief: The draining “Man,” the preening “money makers”—trouble on the street below. But Callier doesn’t cheapen his people’s experiences of racism or poverty. Instead, his music seeks to surround them like a shield.

After Callier was dropped from Cadet, ostensibly due to poor sales, producer Don Mizell signed him to Elektra, who attempted to slot him into the “disco-loverman” formation, releasing Fire on Ice (1978) and Turn You to Love (1979). Again, the mislabeling hindered his career, and in 1983, when Callier’s daughter Sundiata told him she wanted to live in Chicago, he retired from music, got a job as a computer programmer at the University of Chicago, and focused on raising his daughter. Callier’s collaborations were riddled with premature deaths: Stepney at 45, Riperton at 31. Callier persisted until he died of throat cancer in 2012.

It is a little disorienting to read posthumous essays that emphasize the “discovery” of Callier’s talents, projecting him as unsung hero. It is meant respectfully, and I am not sure I achieve anything different here in attempting to impart that Callier was extraordinary and deserving of all that love. Besides fame, had found different meanings through his art: a respected singer-songwriter in the eyes of his contemporaries and, in a testament to his own experimentation, an influence on a wide spectrum of musical lineages, including early American grunge, British trip hop, and Japanese lo-fi instrumentalism.

His friends and family called it an “ordinary joy,” the way that man lit up a room, the childlike wonder he inspired among his friends and peers. That light was reciprocated: In 2017, after a community petition, Chicago inaugurated Terry Callier Way on a stretch near Seward Park in Cabrini-Green. It’s a small memorial to a Chicago man whose primary tension was between his people and the world outside. On “I’d Rather Be With You”, a warm and generous song from his third album, he sings of indispensability, of the sacrifices he would be willing to make to be with someone: “I could take my guitar/And hit the road, try to be a star/That sort of thing/Just don’t appeal to me.” Sometimes love owns us.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Terry Callier - Occasional Rain Music Album Reviews Terry Callier - Occasional Rain Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Sunday, June 19, 2022 Rating: 5

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