Bill Callahan

With 2007's Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City), Bill Callahan stepped, finally, out from behind the mask of his alias, Smog or (Smog), to claim his rightful place as one of the most confident, unique voices in the nebulous space between the underground and the "independent." The sonic differences between Whaleheart and his late Smog work are marginal, so perhaps the name change reflects Callahan's ideas about his own artistic maturity. The pseu­do­nym once protected an unsure, fumbling youth, but now Callahan speaks with a security that needs no disguise. Or maybe it signified a new thematic direction: The album retains the playfulness of Callahan's earlier work but puts it into the service of myth, folk wisdom and pagan spirituality. It's difficult to imagine the wry fatalism of "Dress Sexy at My Funeral" fitting in here, though tracks like "Sycamore" ("love in the wild and fight in a won't get hurt if you keep your hands up and stand tall like sycamore") are no less sophisticated or pragmatic. The bold scheduling of Callahan's "Mouth of the South" tour brings his subtle, powerful wisdom to a few towns it might not be expected to grace: Hattiesburg, Mississippi; St. Augustine, Florida; and freeway-loving Houstonians' best chance to catch him — in scenic, unspoiled Beaumont.

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