CD Review: Bill Callahan, Woke on a Whaleheart

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Though he’s made a dozen records in the past 17 years, Bill Callahan’s name isn’t exactly widely known. Under the guise of Smog (perhaps not to be confused with the football coach of the same name), he’s created a stunning breadth of music that began as skeletal folk and has blossomed into nuanced pop still informed by those initial sketchings. So perhaps that’s why he’s decided to go with his birth name for his thirteenth and latest full-length, Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City). Like past gems such as Red Apple Falls and Dongs of Sevotion, Whaleheart shows Callahan’s gift for language and ear for song. Leadoff cut “From the Rivers to the Ocean” builds from a fragile piano line into a powerful paean to transcendental love and understanding. “Footprints,” takes a similar lyrical bent, but matches such musing to a propulsive tempo and Elizabeth Warren’s fiery fiddling. Elsewhere “Sycamore” puts amorphisms like “There’s sap in the trees if you tap them. There’s blood on the seas if you map them.” to a sparkling guitar melody that calls on Phil Spector as well as Pete Seeger. Like all his records, Whaleheart reveals an artist that’s become one with his work, music that’s become as much a part of his being as his being is part of his music.

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