Bill Callahan, the troubled American troubadour with the salacious late-night radio voice, finally seems to have found himself. After almost 20 years recording under the name Smog and churning out everything from noisy lo-fi to introspective ballads, Callahan cleaned the slate in 2007 and reverted to his own name, and when he did, something magical happened.
Take a trawl through Smog’s back catalogue and you’ll find a man who’s grown up through his music. He’s turned out moody instrumental soundscapes, minimalist garage rock, acoustic, lump-in-your-throat ballads and then (just when you thought you’d got him pigeon-holed), he whipped out a banjo and made you laugh. Callahan is clearly a man who likes to keep his fans, and his record company, on their toes.
His latest album, Apocalypse, is a monstrously good record. The opening track ‘Drover’ is worthy of a Western with galloping percussion, soaring strings and lazy slide guitar. Other highlights are ‘Baby’s Breath’—an exquisite ode to settling down and finding your place in the world—and the upbeat finale ‘One Fine Morning’. Where once Callahan’s vocals were indistinct and low down in the mix, now his deep, deadpan baritone dominates and nuzzles your earlobes. His voice has grown richer and more confident over the years and on Apocalypse, it’s a tour de force.
Bill Callahan got used to being under-rated. Music journalists might compare him to Leonard Cohen and enthuse that he’s one of the world’s finest songwriters (yet most laconic interviewees), but until now, the general record-buying public haven’t taken much notice. Now that they have, you’d be well advised to buy your tickets early. If there’s any justice in the world, this will be a sell-out.
Bill Callahan, May 23rd, Bikini