John Callahan – PURPLE WINOS IN THE RAIN
Broken noses, broken veins…
If any other album in this series demands a proper review, it’s this. Because face it – your chances of having heard John Callahan’s music are minimal to say the least.
I first read about this album in 2008, and it was Jim James, of all people, who praised it to the extent you could not ignore. I never cared for Jim James and his overtly second-rate band, but something drew me to an album he so ardently recommended. The album was not easy to track down, but Christ was it ever worth it.
Purple Winos In The Rain was not connected with any special (or specific, for the matter) moment in my life. Rather, it created its own moment. Rain poured to “Lost In The City”, autumn ended to “Suicide In The Fall”. You come across such albums once in a while and wonder just how obscure great things can get.
And it’s great in a quiet, humble but absolutely unequivocal way. Seventeen songs (plus a guest appearance from Tom Waits, who gets to sing the stunning “Touch Me Someplace I Can Feel”) of strummed guitars, affecting piano notes and occasional harmonica. John’s beautifully understated and moving vocals coupled with the kind of tunes that make you go ‘Jesus this is fucking amazing’. Seventeen times. And the lyrics, of course. Morbid, ominous – against all that melodic prettiness (“Portland Girl” is just unbelievable).
This album’s influences could be numerous, but you won’t hear them. John Callahan’s personality is all over these songs, whether it’s the one-minute “Yesler Street” or the straightforwardly waltzy “Bullet Through The Heart”. Shamefully (I had an excuse: I loved the music), it was somewhat later that I found out more about the art of John Callahan. His brilliant but hopelessly dark cartoons were a perfect match for the music on Purple Winos In The Rain. Sadly, the only album he managed in his lifetime (he died in 2010, at the age of 59).
I’m listening to it right now. It’s something about Charlie Manson saving The Beatles… And just like Jim James all those years ago, I can’t recommend this enough. By any standard and for any taste, Purple Winos In The Rain is achingly special.