Woke on a Whaleheart

Recording for almost two decades under the name Smog, BILL CALLAHAN attracted an intensely devoted fan base as his work grew from lo-fi origins to a more orchestrated sound. Over a chugging rock beat, he juxtaposed his sad, narcissistic poeticism with a vocal range a notch above monotone, making his music unique and instantly recognizable. But with Callahan’s 2004 move to Austin came a palpable change: A River Ain’t Too Much to Love, released the following year, was a bare-bones and gothic folk affair. Now Callahan has abandoned the Smog name altogether. WOKE ON A WHALEHEART (Drag City) rocks harder than River and fills in the empty spaces. While on one level it sounds like a Smog record, there’s more at work: the loneliness of “Night,” the hopeful gospel tinges in “The Wheel,” the narrator’s marvel on “Honeymoon Child” and “Diamond Dancer” (“She was dancing so hard/She danced herself into a diamond”). On the metaphoric opener, Callahan sounds for all the world like a man in love. After years of looking passively inward, he’s reached out and likes what he’s found. “I can tell you about the river,” he sings, “or we could just get in.”

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