Album: Smog

A River Ain't Too Much To Love, DOMINO
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The Independent Culture

Bill Callahan's follow-up to 2003's patchy Supper was recorded at Pedernales Studio in Spicewood, Texas, the source of many a Willie Nelson classic. It's a good choice, favouring the kind of intense intimacy that gives the best Smog songs their power. The benefits are laid out in the opening "Palimpsest", where the Nelson-style nylon-string guitar and close-miked vocal are accompanied by weary wheezes of harmonica as Callahan frets quietly over his outsider status: "Why's everybody looking at me/ Like there's something fundamentally wrong/ Like I'm a southern bird that stayed north too long". Elsewhere, the simplicity and purity of the arrangement to "Rock Bottom Riser" recalls the mood of Leonard Cohen's first album, with methodical guitar triplets punctuated by Joanna Newsom's sparse piano figures. Water dominates the songs, with the simple arpeggios of "Say Valley Maker" tracking the course of a river, "The Well" recounting at length Callahan's quandary about a drop of water on the back of his neck, and "Drinking at the Dam" featuring his recollections of teenage rites of passage. The mood is hushed and contemplative, with a bucolic tone that he's happy to admit is bogus.