Bill Callahan, 'Woke on a Whaleheart' (Drag City)

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Woke on a Whaleheart
Critical Mass
Label: Drag City

by Josh Modell

Give Bill Callahan credit for knowing when to bury the Smog name: Though still anchored by his peculiar mind and baritone, Whaleheart is galaxies away from the downcast, claustrophobic songs that have defined the nomadic singer/songwriter for more than 15 years. Callahan's not all smiles and rhinestones now, but he's definitely succumbed to a sort of Music Row bug, using sunnier melodies and instrumentation on songs that you can almost imagine as hits for hatted-and-booted performers ("Sycamore" even has an island feel!). The change isn't unwelcome -- overcast days can be wearying -- but, skirting the emotional depths that marked his past work, Callahan's new persona feels almost shallow.

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