Bill Callahan has been camouflaging himself in Smog—w/ or w/out ( )s—and clandestinely cutting foggy lo-fi bleariness for nigh on 20 years. River keeps getting called his “rebirth” record, but that’d make it his 13th. Twelve albums and summers ago, this Chicagoan decreed “I am Star Wars today!”; embarrassed now by such sentiment, the beaten stepchild takes his horse with no name deep into the Texas hill country, to find his redheaded estranged Darth father, Willie Nelson, and flatly greet the walls in his studio.
The son is filled with ice, while coyotes play jowl’s harp and ladyfriend Princess Joanna Newsom p’Leia’s piano, backing Callahan as he ice-picks a waltz on the guitar he bought for “Rock Bottom Riser.” The stripped-bare trad “In the Pines” is whistled among the mesquite and huisache brambles. Elsewhere Smog drain bottles at the dam, shout down a well, wet dry river beds, cover a heart in dew-dew. Callahan’s long, humid ride exchanges hiding for rawhide, as if on the trail with Leonard Cohen and some other winking existentialist. “God is a word and the argument ends there,” Callahan spits, and it’s the kind of nausea that Jean-Paul Sartre must’ve got when swallering his plug of tobacky.
Smog play the Bowery Ballroom August 12.