In retrospect, the approach Terry Callier takes on Hidden Conversations seems like something of an inevitability. Callier was one of the earliest singer/songwriters under the folk umbrella to expand the music's possibilities by mixing it with soul and jazz, well in advance of Tim Buckley and Tim Hardin, or even Fred Neil. Callier cut a few '70s cult classics, but by the '80s he was retired from active music. In the '90s, Callier became a cause célèbre on the British acid-jazz scene, and was coaxed out of retirement. His reactivation has proven permanent, and Hidden Conversations is Callier's fifth new studio album since his 1998 comeback, Timepeace. It's also the first to truly assimilate the sensibilities of the musical community that facilitated his return to duty. The seeds of Hidden Conversations were sown when Callier played the 2008 Meltdown Festival, curated by Massive Attack. One thing led to another, and before you know it, the veteran trip-hop outfit was involved with both the writing and production of Callier's new album. It's always a tricky thing to try updating the sound of a long-established artist, and the electronica production techniques that define the album mostly straddle the fence, not really increasing Callier's appeal, but not destroying it, either. The cuts that find Callier near-rapping over trip-hop beats could have been a complete embarrassment, but they wind up with a sort of Gil Scott-Heron vibe. The songs that revolve around a more downtempo feel are the most successful, possibly because they're closest to Callier's old approach. Sometimes the moody, film noir touches threaten to bog down Callier's passionate, street-poet lyrics, but the singer's unvanquished soul and undeniable gravitas prove powerful enough to rise above the murkier moments. In hindsight, it probably would have been wisest not to fix what wasn't broken in Callier's sound, but one can't deny him his attempts at expansion, even if they aren't entirely successful.
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AllMusic Review by James Allen