14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Not bad for a debut,
This review is from: Woke On A Whaleheart (Audio CD)
Having begun as Smog, switched to (smog), moved back to Smog, Bill Callahan is, finally, just Bill Callahan. Having hidden behind the Smog moniker and dressed passion in dispassionate delivery for nearly two decades, Callahan's reputation is enigmatic, but, addressed by his own name, he's no longer such an enigma. In fact, on the single Diamond Dancer, he admits, "It's time I gave the world my life."
The change of name might mean a more candid Callahan but his iconic baritone and the cutting inflection that straddles perfectly the line between self-depreciation and self-parody are unchanged. The beautiful prose of tracks like Footprints ("where the footprints end / we must have flown") is coupled with wry wit, as on From The Rivers To The Ocean ("we got in the river and it groped us / made us think of sex between us").
Taking care of the arrangements is Neil Michael Hagerty, whose garage sensibilities further the Nashville sound of the last Smog album, A River Ain't Too Much To Love, to give Callahan a country outlaw edge. While it's true that Woke On A Whaleheart follows the gentler path that he began to forge with 2003's Supper, the new album is even more compelling than his earlier, more subversive material.
Sycamore, with backing gospel vocals from Deani Pugh-Flemmings of the Olivet Baptist Church choir, could easily be a Stax recording; the captivating Night features gorgeous piano from Howard Draper; while Callahan provides himself with a verbal cue on On The Wheel, speaking each line before he sings it.
Having worn many aesthetic masks throughout his career, Callahan has made his best album without wearing one at all. No longer inscrutable, but never easy, Woke On A Whaleheart snatches at the same painful honesty we haven't seen from him since The Doctor Came At Dawn.