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Bill Callahan's delivery is most assuredly deadpan, but that pan is a Petri dish brimming with tense aggregation of tiny swirling creatures

Bill Callahan's delivery is most assuredly deadpan, but that pan is a Petri dish brimming with tense aggregation of tiny swirling creatures

originally published: May, 2005


A River Ain't Too Much To Love
(Drag City)

OK, this is the second artist in a row that the same friend who opened me up to singer-songwriters has turned me onto, meaning the dispatch of a ballon bouquet or something of that magnitude is in order. This time, the same friend that turned me onto Nick Drake, was so enthralled by Smog back in their/his (Smog, or recently (Smog), is the Derrida-essay-question moniker of much-beloved songsmith Bill Callahan) early years that he bought and mailed me the Burning Kingdom and Wild Love CD's which about every 3 months over that past 4 years manage to overtake my cd-player for a week. Bill Callahan's delivery is most assuredly deadpan, but that pan is a Petri dish brimming with tense aggregation of tiny swirling creatures and life and death and love and sadness that is invisible to the casual eye. His un-adorned grasp of sadness is off-putting at first, in that he seems a little too comfortable with it, but once the Smog rolls in (sorry), you realize its the way one has to be.

Here, in his latest epsistle A River Ain't Too Much To Love, he accompanies himself (along with the subliminal drummer Jim White of the Dirty Three, a band you need to check out if you aren't into them. Come to think of it, that same friend turned me onto them as well....) with the rippling paddlewheel of strummed guitar and distant drum pulses, his voice sounding deeper and clearer than at any point in his career. It was recorded at Willie Nelson's studio, so maybe the room istelf is tuned to draw its walls as close to the voices in it.

Dawn creeps up in the sparse guitar plucking and odd bird call sound on the beuatiful "Palimpset." Callahan's warm voice is so close to the front of the mix, it sounds like you are thinking the words, narrating the music with your own self-reflection. This pacing and structure sets the pace for much of the album including the majestic "Say Valley Maker" where a couple other ghostly voices appear now and again to back him up, building up to great lines

So bury me in wood, and I will splinter
Bury me in stone, I will quake
Bury me in water, I'm gonna geyser
Bury me in fire, I'm gonna phoenix

The best track on the album, or at least the one that stands out the most, is the rolling fiddle and guitar clockwork of "The Well" which carries as its theme for all artists, "Everyone has their own thing that they yell into a well." as well as implementing my favorite Southern epiteth "fuck all y'all" a number of times. Just say it. It feels so good coming from your voice. Work it into your day-to-day discourse and you will be a better person for it.

There are some positively beuatiful twinkling moments like the golden ripple of "I Feel Like the Mother of the World." and the cowboy lope of "In The Pines" which shares the same kind of empty air as fellow exquisite-sad-sack-with-a-band-name Silver Jews/David Berman. Also is the delicate tale "I'm New Here." It all culminates with the existentialist anthems "Drinking at the Dam" and "Let Me See the Colts" where you feel a range of emotions sweep around you like a dust storm. Smog albums have a way of pulling you near by the collar and physically turning your head to see something but not showing you everything, but in this most intimate of records, you are so close can feel his breath, and his arm is around your shoulder as he sings in your ear.

Alex V. Cook

Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v

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