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Bill Callahan: Woke On A Whaleheart

Since the lo-fi indie-rock band Smog has always been Bill Callahan and whomever he's hanging out with at any given time, it may strike some as odd that Callahan has ditched the Smog moniker and released an album under his own name. But while Callahan's Woke On A Whaleheart shares Smog's rumbly tone and rootsy foundations, it is a bit of a departure. Consider "Diamond Dancer," the best song on the album, and one of the standout rock tracks of 2007. Between the Euro-funky bass runs and sinister fiddles, "Diamond Dancer" comes off like mid-'70s David Bowie with a light country overlay. It's downright visionary, and hardly Smoggy. Elsewhere, Callahan evokes John Cale and Lou Reed, with relaxed, nasal singing on pop-folk ballads like "Sycamore" and "Day." And he takes a weird spin through the call-and-response gospel tradition by feeding himself his own lines on "The Wheel" and "A Man Needs A Woman Or A Man To Be A Man." With only nine songs—many of them more like ideas than fully realized compositions—Woke On A Whaleheart seems too slight and sloppy. But that loose feel also gives rise to a sense of discovery, as on the album-opener "From The Rivers To The Ocean," which begins as a meandering piano ballad, then adds instruments and odd melodic tangents, as though the song itself were a physical space that Callahan is merely exploring. As he explains in the song, "I could tell you about the river, or we could just get in."


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