Bill Callahan Reviewed
Woke on a Whaleheart
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., April 20, 2007
Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City)
"Have faith in wordless knowledge" intones Bill Callahan repeatedly on "From the Rivers to the Ocean," which opens his debut release out from under the moniker of Smog. For a songwriter renowned for stunningly wry narratives, violent honesty, and calculated introspection, the line is a remarkable acquiescence to impulse and intuition and an apropos reflection of Callahan's new awakening. Whereas locally recorded 2005 Smog LP A River Ain't Too Much to Love was an intense contemplation of passing waters from the shore, Woke on a Whaleheart is a visceral embrace of the flood: "We got in the river, and it groped us, made us think of sex between us," the opener climaxes, epitomizing the album's crests of passionate, corporeal catharsis. Musically, Whaleheart's awash in abandon as well. Callahan relinquished control of the arrangements to co-producer Neil Michael Hagerty, who deluges the songs with Elizabeth Warren's violin and the percussive rush of Shearwater's Thor Harris and Howard Draper. "Diamond Dancer" swirls atop a disco-funk bass, which returns behind the expansive lap steel of "Honeymoon Child," while the literary "Sycamore" and closer "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to Be a Man" shows Callahan turning from characteristic brooding and restraint toward a loving levity. In letting go, Callahan finds himself at his best locale to date.