The singer-songwriter at work.
Bill Callahan's decision to drop the band name Smog after nearly 20 years coincided with a newfound interest in lush, ornate arrangements: both Woke On A Whaleheart and Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle married Callahan's rich baritone to its most elegant musical surroundings so far. Apocalypse is by no means a return to the lo-fi hiss and stark one-man settings of Smog's earliest days, but it certainly dials things back considerably. Recorded with a small band of friends from Callahan's adopted hometown of Austin--including regular collaborators Jonathan Meiburg (Shearwater) and Brian Beattie ('80s cult heroes Glass Eye)--the album has an intimate, live-in-the-studio feel, with only occasional drifts of flute and countrified fiddle coloring the tunes. Musically, the album's MVP is electric guitarist Matt Kinsey, whose bursts of feedback and sustain add drama to an otherwise sedate set. As ever, though, it's the lyrics--delivered in Callahan's trademark talk-sing baritone--that matter most. From the opening "Drover" (old west cattle drive as an extended metaphor for songwriting) onwards, Callahan keeps returning to images of the singer-songwriter at work, most directly in "Riding for the Feeling" and the centerpiece "America!," in which he names great American songwriters by their military rank before confessing "I never served my country." Even the cinematic lost-love tale "Baby's Breath" ends with the realization "And now I know you must reap what you sow...or sing." It's a heavy sentiment, lightened by the calm serenity of the lovely melody and Callahan's relaxed, self-assured performance.
|The World of Bill Callahan|