Within three seconds of Bill Callahan’s new album, the sound of a gorgeous pedal steel seeps into the opening song. It wails like a wordless cry, setting the sumptuous tone of “Dream River,” Callahan’s fourth studio album under his own name since dispensing with the moniker Smog. With eight songs that unfurl to 40 minutes, it’s impeccably crafted and plays off a mercurial tension between Callahan’s voice — a parched yet resonant baritone — and the lush arrangements that envelop it. These songs have soul, drive; even when they spiral into psychedelic visions (dig those flute interludes all over the record), Callahan sounds like an assured storyteller. He’s conjuring the same spare, desert-folk beauty he introduced on recent releases “Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle” (2009) and “Apocalypse” (2011). But he’s also getting closer to capturing the direct simplicity of great songwriters like Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury, both of whom are influences. “The only words I said today are ‘beer’ and ‘thank you,’ ” Callahan deadpans on “The Sing.” So simple but so telling. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Javelin Unlanding”
Bill Callahan performs at the Sinclair on Oct. 5.