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Bill Callahan

Apocalypse (Drag City)

Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., April 8, 2011

Texas Platters

Bill Callahan

Apocalypse (Drag City)

With 2009's Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle, Bill Callahan tackled God and country in equal measure, with idyllic ruminations and soft-focus instrumentation that made for the most immediate and inviting work of his career. Following his debut novel, Letters to Emma Bowlcut, an epistolary account of a long-distance relationship, the former Smog songsmith ventures even further out to pasture. Above all else, Apocalypse is an album about identity and rebirth, as Callahan shuffles through a variety of guises (gardener, sailor, songwriter) and styles (the Middle Eastern-accented "Universal Applicant") in a manner not unlike Sam Beam on Iron & Wine's recent Kiss Each Other Clean. "Drover" scripts a horse opera as only Callahan could – a cold, unnerving account of a cattle herder heading West atop jagged percussion and brushes of fiddle and electric guitar – while "Baby's Breath" returns to the wellspring of 2005's A River Ain't Too Much To Love with a passing nod to Connecticut folkie Kath Bloom. The stunning "Riding for the Feeling" could have fallen off recent tour LP Rough Travel for a Rare Thing, a road-weary contemplation that prompts "my apocalypse," a moment that finds resolve here in eight-minute closer "One Fine Morning." Likewise, "America!," over a late-1970s progressive funk groove that sparkles on par with 2007 single "Diamond Dancer," transforms from travelogue ("I watched David Letterman in Australia") to an ugly indictment ("Everyone's allowed a past they don't care to mention"), with the haymaker thrown midway through: "I never served my country." In such instances, Apocalypse bleeds the personal and political into a heavy reckoning. (Callahan reads from Letters to Emma Bowlcut at BookPeople on Sunday, April 10, 5pm.)

***

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