Deadpan Bard Takes His Own Name, Not in Vain

Bill Callahan's Woke on a Whaleheart

The fact that Bill Callahan's most recent LP sheds his well-worn Smog alias should be of little consequence—over the course of a dozen Drag City releases, his deadpan baritone and evocative, rewarding talents as a songwriter have become as familiar to snap-button indies as his given name. And yet the fact that Woke on a Whaleheart comes from Bill Callahan, not Smog, somehow lends the record's typically clever and confident one-liners more magnitude, whether Callahan is passing along a fatherly nugget on the Byrds-touched "Sycamore" ("Remember to love in the wild and fight in the gym") or spitballing maxims of his own design (self-evident in the title of "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to Be a Man").


Bill Callahan
Woke on a Whaleheart
Drag City

The most significant difference between Smog's last and Callahan's first can be heard in the contributions of Royal Trux guitarist Neil Michael Haggerty. Like Whaleheart's few other ill-focused songs, the meandering six-minute opener "From the Rivers to the Oceans" is saved by Haggerty's elegant arrangement and rich production. Even so, when everything falls into place, as on the gospel call-and-response of "The Wheel" or the lusty groove of "Diamond Dancer," the rewards are singular. They could only come from Bill Callahan.

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