Following on from 2001's sporadically inspirational, yet largely disappointing, 'Rain on Lens' (if you don't count Accumulation: None that is, which you should) Supper marks a rustic, emotionally affecting return to form for Smog's Bill Callahan. Many songs unravel and follow their own country-tinged logic. Opener 'Feather to Feather' is worth the price of the CD alone - a wonderfully fragile, sprawling song whose majesty and grace builds and locks you in. The unknown Sarabeth Tucek duets here as she does on 'Truth Serum' to beautiful effect, and it's songs like these that highlight the true frailty and absurdity of love - a theme which is at the core of this album. Elsewhere Callahan's unpredictable vocal intonation allows momentous fragments of jubilitation to build on the banjo scattered 'Vessel in Vain' and also, as on 'Our Anniversary', a sustained tension. The Velvet Underground chug Callahan's been consolidating on the last few albums has not been forgotten and on 'Butterflies Drowned in Wine' and 'Morality' it largely works - although these songs seem somehow disjointed alongside some of the more affecting tracks. People often forget that Callahan is also a brilliantly funny lyricist - with great lines saturating much of this album. Take the classic 'when they make the movie of your life they're going to have to ask you to do your own stunts' on 'Feather by Feather'. There is much to love on 'Supper' as Callhan builds on his already strong body of work. Alright, for Smog purists (is there such a thing?), this might not be a 'classic' in the same way 'Wild Love' or 'Knock Knock' are, but it offers an expansive and consistently rich introduction to the world of Bill Callahan.
After the somewhat disappointing Rain On Lens album, Bill Callahan went back to basics and `headed back to the country' for this 2003 album, which has a definite country feel.
The steel guitar is prominent from the first track, Feather By Feather, which would have fit in well on Red Apple Falls. The track has a relaxed, unhurried feel about it, reinforced by Sarabeth Tucek's backing vocals. The pace picks up with Butterflies Drowned In Wine, which takes the VU inspired chug of the previous album and marries it to the aforementioned steel guitar, by way of numerous changes in tempo and a vocal that sounds more like Lou Reed than ever. It should sound like a complete mess but weirdly, it doesn't. Maybe it's Tucek's backing vocals? It beats the hell out of most of the Rain On Lens material, that's for sure. If it appeared on a Lou Reed album it would probably be the best track.
Morality is another uptempo track, though less successful. Things improve with the understated, wary Ambition, which floats in on some eerie organ, accompanied by nicely picked guitars. Vessel in Vain is a more stripped down, rootsy track. It's a relatively simple melody which climaxes in an almost sing-along chorus, as he sings "my ideals have got me on the run".
Later, Truth Serum is another fairly unrushed, lazy melody which has the feel of a vintage Van Morrison track about it. The playing on this is wonderfully light, though it has to be said that this and most of the other tracks take a few listens to grab you. At its core this one is an unashamed romantic duet, and though it lasts seven and a half minutes, you don't want it to end. Which actually makes it better than some of the overlong tracks on Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.
Our Anniversary is another fine lengthy melody, a little sparser but again the playing here has a great light touch to it. Driving on the other hand is a bit of a mess. I think he was aiming for a sort of repetitive mantra effect but it disrupts the flow of the album a bit. Final track Guiding Light is better, it's a darker and shorter track, reminiscent of some of the stripped down closing tracks on older Smog albums. He sings about the sun sinking, and "staying up long into the night" over ringing electric guitar and minimal percussion. Nice to end on a down note. (!)
This is a fine album though it's a real grower, requiring multiple listens, though if you have patience it will be rewarded.
Smog, which is to say Callahan plus guests, has probably recorded his most accessible and bright album to date. Now, "accessible" or "bright" are terms that must be qualified, when it comes to Smog. The wise irony of his lyrics and stark melodies, which have been staples of Callahan's songwriting are very much present here too, yet these songs seem to reveal a new phase of his personal and artistic development. As he said in one of his early songs, "I'm gathering splinters / to make a raft someday," and so he has and he's, it is my intuition, more interested in reaching you, than ever before. This is particularly poignant in "Truth Serum," "Anniversary," and, my personal favorite, the quirkily countryish "Feather By Feather," songs that combine the precision and irony of his best lyrics, with unassumingly simple yet enthralling melodies. This album should rank with "Knock Knock" or "Red Apple Falls," although its mood is definitely lighter by Smog standards, as a work of high consistency and weight. As Callahan says himself, in "Feather By Feather," this is music for people "who when they do the movie of your life / they gonna have to ask you to do your own stunts."
Bill Callaghan was responsible for two of the best LPs of the 90's in 'Red Apple Falls' and 'Knock Knock' and thankfully he has just released his third classic LP, after the disapointing 'Rain on Lens'. 'Supper' is a return to the mixture of catchy tunes ('Butterflies drowned in wine') and more laid back ventures ('Our Anniversary', and the closing 'A Guilding Light')rather than the harsh, unpolished feel of it's predecessor. Lyrically, Callaghan is up there with the best (When they make the movie of your life/ They're gonna have to ask you to do your own stunts), and his voice is complimented by female Sarabeth Tucek's fine vocals. If you like your alt.country a little less predictable than the norm then here is a very good place to start. Along with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's 'Master and Everyone', 'Supper' is the warmest and most beautiful record of 2003 so far.
I haven't heard any of Smog's previous albums, but this is one very fine album indeed. It manages to be both unmistakably rock and unmistakably country at the same time. The vocals are pure Nashville, but musically we're in a territory which borders on Neil Young and U2, and which has diplomatic relations with Velvet Underground and even Jesus & Mary Chain. It's a laid-back and low-key kind of album, without being particularly quiet. Actually, it's rather intense, but this has to do with authenticity and authority rather than noise and pace. High points include 'Feather by feather', 'Truth Serum' & 'Anniversary', but it's difficult to name any sub-standard tracks, as the album works very well as a whole. If you like your country rock with a twist, 'Supper' is highly recommended.
Let me begin by admitting that I haven't heard any of Smog's previous recordings. However, this does nor prevent me, I think, from honestly feeling that this is a very good album indeed. It is a laid-back kind of thing, but nevertheless unmistakably rock, just as it is unmistakably country. The vocals are pure Nashville, but musically we're entering territory that borders on Nick Cave and U2, and which has diplomatic relations with Velvet Underground or even Jesus & Mary Chain. This is a record to put on when the party is winding down, but people are still awake, a record for long drives through barren lands. High points include 'Feather by Feather', 'Truth Serum' and 'Our Anniversary'. This is not an uptempo, fastpaced rock'n'roll album (au contraire), but there's an intensity, an authoritativeness and an authenticity that many rock bands should envy. If you like your country rock with a twist, this would be a good place to place your order.
I have not heard any of Smog's other recordings, but that does not prevent me from thinking that 'Supper' is a very good album indeed. It manages to be both unmistakably country and unmistakably rock at the same time. The vocals are pure Nashville, but musically we're in a territory that borders on Neil Young and U2, and which has diplomatic relations with Velvet Underground and even Jesus & Mary Chain. It is not a noisy album - it is laid-back and low-key, sincere and melodious, authentic and authoritative. So if you like your country rock with a twist, this supper should satisfy you very nicely.