July 5, 2010

Smog – A River Ain’t Too Much to Love
singer/songwriter, folk, country

After carving out a prolific niche as a subdued, lo-fi, singer-songwriter type, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love was enough to make you think that Bill Callahan had been a lonesome cowboy his entire life. The folksy, country boy schtick fits him perfectly, with Bill’s ultra-deep, charismatic vocal being surprisingly reminiscent of Johnny Cash, even if he does stick mostly to spoken-word delivery, letting his guitar do all the melodic heavy-lifting. It’s really refreshing to hear Callahan sounding mellowed-out and content – even happy at times – as Smog - A River Ain't Too Much to Loveit makes for an interesting contrast against the often dark themes and stark production of his previous works. A River Ain’t Too Much to Love feels like a comfortable album, arguably the most natural fit of Callahan’s career, but I also consider it his most accomplished. The production is sublime, retaining Smog’s usual minimalist style but making it sound dense and layered, which allows for those distant, wistful touches that can be a lot harder to nail when everything sounds equally “up-front”. If you combine that with the best songwriting of his career – “Palimpsest”, “The Well”, “Rock Bottom Riser”, “I Feel Like the Mother of the World” and “Let Me See the Colts” are some of the best things he’s ever written – you get Callahan’s true masterpiece, and it’s an under-acknowledged one at that.