As the title may suggest, this is a river concept album with a deep Appalachian twang. Wry humor, old-timey fiddles, he even manages to thrown in a y’all, and a dang, this is a charming and funny new album from Bill Callahan.
I got into Smog through 1993's Julius Caesar and stuck with him through Burning Kingdom, Wild Love, Kicking A Couple Around, and The Doctor Came at Dawn. It was around the time of Kicking that I had the fortune of seeing Bill and Cat Power at the old Starfish Room in Vancouver. Bill looked as uncomfortable in the club as I was, standing around a lot looking bored with a beer. His set reduced me to tears; I was going through a romantic hell at the time and, judging from the lyrical content, so was he.
I started to lose faith around Red Apple Falls. Around that time my friend Warren picked up the torch; he'd had a fun time hanging out in Montreal one night with Bill and friends. I'd love to have been there to see Smog singing When Doves Cry at that Cowboy karaoke bar on Sherbrooke St. After all, this is the man who gave us Prince Alone In The Studio.
Warren sent me copies of Red Apple, Knock Knock and Dongs of Sevotion, which is remarkable because the guy can't even get it together to send me a copy of his own Royal Mountain Band CD, although I will give him credit for sending me a copy of his awesome Proper Concern CD - check out a hilarious, bizarre live performance on Zed TV.
Bill started winning me back with Knock Knock and to some degree Rain On Lens and Supper. But I was still resistant! I think it's just hard in this day and age to stick with an artist for any great length and for me it's been 12 years. Too, I think, his flirtation with country rambles seemed to be increasing... But Bill deserves to be stuck with I'm proclaiming - this new River themed-concept album is proof.
Smog has so totally embraced a hillbilly twang that the moniker may be now entirely inappropriate; this guy sounds like he's living high on a mountaintop and loving it. He's throwing in 'dangs' and 'fuck all y'all's' left and right and it works – both funny and fun. There's still plenty of the alienated, paranoid depression that made Smog the perfect soundtrack to your suicidal, difficult years., and there's still that rich, mournful voice that grows stronger every year and yet still maintains its heartbreaking frailty.
Callahan's New Weird American Drag City label mates seem to be having a bit of an influence; the first song, Palimpsest, has a bit of their energy, methinks. Being the album opener, it's not surprising that this is the finest song. Another highlight Another goodie is the sweet reminiscent tone of Drinking At The Dam with the classic line "Skin mags in the brambles, the first part of my life, I thought women had orange skin."
The production is great – sparse, with warm acoustic guitars, harmonicas, some strings and fiddles, the occasional piano and very relaxed drums.
This is a really good album.