(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Sewn To The Sky, 7/10
Forgotten Foundation, 7/10
Julius Caesar, 8/10
Burning Kingdom, 7/10 (EP)
Wild Love, 7.5/10
Kicking A Couple Around, 6/10 (EP)
The Doctor Came At Dawn, 6/10
Red Apple Falls, 7/10
Knock Knock , 6/10
Dongs Of Sevotion, 6.5/10
Rain On Lens , 5/10
Supper , 6/10
A River Ain't Too Much To Love (2005), 6/10
Woke On A Whaleheart (2007), 5/10
Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (2009), 6/10
Apocalypse (2011), 5.5/10
Dream River (2013), 5.5/10
Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (2019), 6/10

Smog, the alias of Bill Callahan, a superb architect of fatalist and oneiric atmospheres, devoted his opus to the paranoid exploration of an obsessive theme, the theme of a life that slowly fades away in nothingness. Smog identified so much with his poetry of loneliness that his songs seemed to lull himself into an intoxicating state of apathy and languor. Like Nick Drake before him, Smog conveyed the dismal sense of angst felt by one who did not want to live in a world that he did not love. With the brief, primitive and minimal compositions of Sewn To The Sky (1990) and Forgotten Foundation (1992), Smog experimented with a format of gloomy litanies set to irrational arrangements that recalled Daniel Johnston. Julius Caesar (1993), instead, introduced a sophisticated composer and arranger, no matter how spectral and tragic the mood. Songs that ran the gamut from expressionist psychodrama to neoclassical lied, and often sounded like a rehearsal for Lou Reed's funeral, reached deep into the singer's alienation. The even more "mundane" approach of Wild Love (1995) refined Smog's chamber pop, the artist spinning his rosary of self-flagellation in a solemn tone, no matter how dark the catacomb in which he was buried alive. On albums such as Red Apple Falls (1997), Smog became a master of scripting soundtracks for an ordinary daily life: melodies borrowed from pop, country and classical music hinted at inner tragedies that never surface but simmer in absolute emptiness.
Biography and reviews.
(Translation from the Italian by Nicole Zimmerman)

Smog was Bill Callahan, one of the more significant singer-song-writers of the 90's, and one of the voices that redefined the concept of "soloist" in an era of "lo-fi" and of "post-rock".

Splendid architect of the dreamy fatalist atmosphere, Smog was also a poet that stubbornly repeated the same theme, that of a life that slowly fades into nothing, and has identified himself to this point in his poetry in hope of the intoxication of starvation and listlessness. In the tradition of the great intimate and minimalist storytellers (Nick Drake, Daniel Johnston, My Dad Is Dead), Smog expressed, above all , a profound sense of anguish of one who is obligated to live in a world without love.

The singer-song-writer was born in 1966 in New Hampshire, but raised in Maryland and England. Callahan started in music in Georgia and then settled in California (first in San Francisco and then Sacramento).

His songbook was casual and rambling, rigorously "lo-fi", and remained relegated to self-produced cassettes for several years (Macram, Gunplay, 1988; Cow, 1989; A Table Setting, 1990; Tired Tape Machine, 1990).

With the ultra-primitive poetic license of Sewn To The Sky (Disaster, 1990), Smog renounced harmony, leaving the muddled confusion of the instruments which produced the music. Beyond the short, absurd interludes, where almost anything was permitted (and that touched the top of spectacular irrationality in the instrumental Russian Winter), Smog arranged the songs making the pulses more stabbing, the rhythms more off-time, and the vocals more disoriented. Kings Tongue resembled a version of White Light White Heat by the Velvet Underground redone by the Flying Lizard. Captain Beefheart would have been proud of the ramshackle blues of Hollow Out Cakes and Lost My Key. And some rhythms, virtually without any sounds that are identifiable, such as Fruit Bats and Puritan Work Ethic, dwell in the realm that is inhabited characters like Wild Man Fisher. Another one of his specialties was creating a song around an unusual rhythm, focusing on things like a strumming asthmatic in Polio Shimmy, thus are the out-of-tune rhythmic styles of Smog. Only in two cases did Smog attempt to communicate, Peach Pie and A Jar Of Sand, which put into words the depression found in the sound. The basic philosophy was that of a solitary heart that does not want to accept the outside world, with its rules of production, consumption, and regulations of communication.

A personality reserved and moderate, Smog took the sidelines in the world of pageantry. After the EP Floating (Drag City), with the succinct hatred of Red Apples and Turb, the album Forgotten Foundation (Drag City, 1992) was recorded (alone as usual) finally with strong regular songs like Burning Kingdom and Your Dress; but also with the usual carnival of absurd melodies and even more absurd accompaniment of: only guitar (Filament), only percussion (Evil Tyrant), or of nothing (Guitar Innovator, screamed a cappella in an anguished tone). Smog found refuge in the traditional medium of introverts, the folk ballad, first with Head Of Stone II and Bad Ideas For Country Songs, and then (above all) with Bad Investment. From that format, Smog took its cue and started to sing with an air of majesty but tragedy in This Insane Cop, worthy of David Peel. The instrumentals were part of the story: the exotic Barometric Pressure touches upon Johnathan Richman, Savage Republic, and Holy Modal Rounders; Kiss Your Lips is a copycat variation on the riff in You Really Got Me; Dead River extended the martial pace of Neil Young; Do The Bed surpassed psychedelic garage-rock. Everything was always of the minimalist philosophy - means and effects. In the end, everything became condensed in the anthem of existential boredom I'm Smiling. The essence of the music was indeed more direct, cruel, and autobiographical in nature in High School Freak, in which Smog seemed to enjoy the torment.

Naturally, within a few years, Smog was flanked by various groups like Royal Trux, Pavement, Sebadoh, and Beat Happening, that hit the charts of "lo-fi" pop. But, Smog's only true counterpart was, if anyone, Daniel Johnston. However, his abhorrent private stories are not equal in level of introversion.

Smog abandoned that vein and began its primary season with Julius Caesar (Drag City, 1993). With Kim Osterwalder by his side on violin, Callahan rediscovered harmony and orchestration, even if he did it his way. The country-western 37 Push-Ups, the driving force for local bands When You Walk and the psychedelic serenade of What Kind Of Angel became transfigured romances that were as ghostly as they were tragic, and ended with the Baroque heights of Your Wedding (Hispanic style guitar and minimalist cello) and Stick In The Mud (a good 5 minutes of sedated classical counterpoint). Chosen One crowns the progression towards a regular song. The harmonic genius of Smog was found again, however, in the anemic and apathetic Strawberry Rash, that seemed to take notes from Heroin by the Velvet Underground, slowed down, ground, and drowned in a bleak and boring mood. I Am A Star Wars, with the riff of Honky Tonk Woman by the Rolling Stones, brought out the verve that Smog always had at the heart of its dark mood. The sophistication of the method allowed Smog to create Stalled On The Tracks, an expressionist counterpoint to the pulsing noises, and perhaps fully expressed the existential melancholy of Callahan. The disc conserved the enigmatic characteristics of the preceding discs. It could be understood that Smog was not happy, but one could not understand what Smog wanted to communicate. The meaning was at least impervious in the sonata for cello One Less Star, steeped in emotion, or, returned to the demented origins of the soloist, in Connections. There were "only" 13 songs this time and it was not only the format that was changed.

Preceded by the single ,A Hit, with the splendid Wine-Stained Lips, the mini-album Burning Kingdom (Drag City, 1994) was the first of Smog's discs to be played as truly complex rock music and featured professional arrangements, which further perfected the theatrical technique of Smog. Prepared by a long introduction of unnerving distortions, My Shell created, through a raga trance, the sense of a nightmare. Smog resumed the archaic/erotic atmosphere of Nico in Drunk On The Stars. The unsettling excursion of My Family (also a hit single) made use of sinister ceremonial rhythm. And with Desert, Smog sank into a solitude that verged on being claustrophobic.

Wild Love (Drag City, 1995) passed through the same shady path, with the calm pace of maturity. The stories of Smog penetrated deep into the soul of the listener, imbued with sadness and loneliness, because they were wrapped in a heap of sound that isolated Smog from the worldliness of rock. The chamber pop style is now an art-form itself: the thoroughbred that is Bathysphere (one of Callahan's masterpieces) was a mixture of orchestral minimalism and lunar sol-fa, which ran on nervous compositions on Television-esque guitar and the singer's sketched out litany, like that of Cure; the long, painful tangent of Prince Alone In The Studio relied on a clever symphonic counterpoint, like if the first King Crimson were performing the music of Nick Drake. Several miniatures reduced the vocals to the bare minimum, as if to sing was a passing fad, and accentuated the instrumental part to the absolute maximum. Echoes in the distance, dismal accord among the string instruments, and jingling of bells kept the song alive in Wild Love, which lasted little more than one minute. The dissonant chime of Sweet Smog Children and the solemn march of The Emperor made, in effect, the group a disciple (ascetic) of Brian Eno. The rhyme of Goldfish Bowl directly revealed the influence of Michael Nyman in the pressing programs of the orchestra. The melody and instrumental rock took back the upper hand only in the nightmare of It's Rough and in the painful ballad Be Hit. Smog did not mess up even one song, did not waste even one second. Jim O'Rourke lent himself nicely to the cello, but it is Callahan who decided the fate of the disc, on guitar and keyboard.

The EP Kicking A Couple Around (Drag City, 1996) was a tribute to the past, a quiet return to the austere sound, principally solitary and acoustic. Back In School, I Break Horses, and The Orange Glow experimented with a new style of recitation, hypnotically slow whispers, and timid accord of the guitar, with the shaky intimacy of the first Leonard Cohen. Your New Friend was more an affectionate conversation found in a bedroom than a song.

The Doctor Came At Dawn (Drag City, 1996), once again entirely played alone, disappointed listeners, and became more like occasional music. Smog, perhaps distracted by the success of Beck, lost time with ballads for voice and guitar such as Somewhere In The Night, Everything You Touch, and Whistling Teapot. Callahan even tried to compose a normal song, Four Hearts In A Can. He was redeemed by the classical trance You Moved In, lulled by worn peals on the piano and in stormy clouds of languid violin, the even hallucination of Spread Your Bloody Wings, and the solemn mediation like that of Leonard Cohen in All Your Woman Things. The genius came to the surface in the a cappella finale Hangman Blues, perhaps the slowest and most resigned blues of all time.

Red Apple Falls (drag City, 1997) is a classic disc, conscientious of having created a style and of having the room to live it until the end. The Morning Paper might have been the crowning sound of a documentary of the ordinary person, recited with the tone of Donovan on a guitar rhythm and between the sol-fas of a French horn. In the emptiness is where the inner tragedy could be found in Red Apples, a sad romance on piano which hangs on very faint murmurs. Callahan's voice agonized in a dream of transient colors, without air, maybe underground. Even at his most depressing he did not have an equal. I Was A Stranger began with a melodious theme on piano that was worthy to be one of Beethoven's early sonatas, and then he expanded to a Hawaiian theme (unusually lively) on guitar. Only Cohen was more philosophical, immersed in the stories of failure and fatalism, and able to touch lightly upon the height of emotion in Blood Red Bird and Red Apple Falls, and brought to mind the country-rock existential Gram Parsons (duly slow and smooth) for Inspirational. Callahan even permitted the imitation of the disenchanted tones and light boogie of Lou Reed in Ex-Con (between the French horn and Hammond piano). He was an ingenious musician that that stayed with elaborate, complex arrangements and invented a classic composition style, and did it all with an intense determination. This album constituted a scant joining of the two styles around which his work fluctuated, like the austerity found in Kicking and the Baroque (for his standards) of Wild Love.

Smog e' Bill Callahan, uno dei piu` significativi cantautori degli anni '90, una delle voci che hanno ri-definito il concetto di "solista" nell'era del "lo-fi" e del "post-rock".

Splendido architetto di atmosfere fataliste e oniriche, Smog e' anche un poeta che ripete testardamente lo stesso tema, quello di una vita che sfuma lentamente nel nulla, e che si immedesima a tal punto nella propria poesia da cullarsi nell'ebbrezza dell'inedia e del languore. Nella tradizione dei grandi cantastorie intimisti e minimali (Nick Drake, Daniel Johnston, My Dad Is Dead), Smog esprime soprattutto il profondo senso di angoscia di chi e' obbligato a vivere in un mondo che non ama.

Cantautore del 1966 nato nel New Hampshire ma cresciuto nel Maryland e in Inghilterra, callahan venne iniziato alla musica in Georgia e infine si stabili` in California (prima a San Francisco e ora a Sacramento).

Il suo canzoniere casuale ed episodico, rigorosamente "lo-fi", e' rimasto relegato per qualche anno su cassette autoprodotte (Macrame` Gunplay del 1988, Cow del 1989, A Table Setting del 1990, Tired Tape Machine del 1990)

Con le venti concise licenze musicali ultra-primitive di Sewn To The Sky (Disaster, 1990), Smog rinunciava di fatto all'armonia, lasciando che fossero le farraginose discordanze degli strumenti a far musica. Al di la` dei brevi intermezzi dell'assurdo, dove e` concesso praticamente di tutto (e che toccano vertici di spettacolare irrazionalita` nello strumentale Russian Winter), Smog arrangia le canzoni con le stecche piu` lancinanti, con i ritmi piu` fuori tempo, con il canto piu` spaesato. Kings Tongue sembra una White Light White Heat dei Velvet Underground rifatta dai Flying Lizard. Captain Beefheart sarebbe fiero del blues sgangherato di Hollow Out Cakes e Lost My Key. E qualche filastrocca praticamente senza suoni che si possano chiamare tali e` al limite del manicomio, come Fruit Bats e Puritan Work Ethic, nel reame che e` stato abitato da personaggi come Wild Man Fisher. Un'altra delle sue specialita` e` di costruire la canzone attorno a un ritmo insolito, lasciando poi che sia quello a concentrare l'attenzione: cosi` lo strimpellio asmatico di Polio Shimmy, cosi` le scordature cadenzate di Smog. Soltanto in un paio di casi Smog prova davvero a comunicare, e Peach Pit e A Jar Of Sand trasferiscono anche nelle parole la depressione del sound. La filosofia di fondo e` quella di un cuore solitario che non vuole accettare il mondo esterno, le sue regole di produzione e consumo e le sue regole di comunicazione.

Personaggio schivo e modesto, Smog si tiene in disparte dal mondo dello spettacolo. Dopo l'EP Floating (Drag City), con le succinte odi di Red Apples e Turb, registra (sempre da solo) l'album Forgotten Foundation (Drag City, 1992), forte di canzoni finalmente regolari come Burning Kingdom e Your Dress; ma anche del solito carnevale di folli melodie e ancor piu` folli accompagnamenti di sola chitarra (Filament), di sole percussioni (Evil Tyrant) o persino di nulla (Guitar Innovator, strillata a cappella in tono angosciato). Smog si rifugia nel medium tradizionale degli introversi, la ballata folk, prima con Head Of Stone II e Bad Ideas For Country Songs, e poi (soprattutto) con Bad Investment. Da quel formato Smog prende lo spunto per intonare con piglio grandioso ma tragicomico This Insane Cop, degna di David Peel.
Gli strumentali fanno storia a parte: l'esotico Barometric Pressure incrocia Jonathan Richman, Savage Republic e Holy Modal Rounders; Kiss Your Lips e` una mimetica variazione sul riff di You Really Got Me; Dead River prolunga il passo marziale di Neil Young; Do The Bed sconfina nel garage-rock psichedelico. Tutto sempre all'insegna del minimo di mezzi e del minimo di effetto. Alla fine il senso di tutto cio` e` condensato nell'inno alla noia esistenziale di I'm Smiling. L'essenza della sua musica e' anzi proprio l'autobiografismo piu' diretto e crudele, quello di High School Freak, in cui Smog sembrava godere a crocifiggersi.

Naturalmente nel giro di pochi anni Smog viene affiancato ai vari Royal Trux, Pavement, Sebadoh e Beat Happening che battono le classifiche del "lo-fi" pop. Ma l'unica sua vera controparte e` semmai Daniel Johnston. Le sue turpi storie private non hanno eguali in fatto di introversione.

Smog abbandona invece quel filone e da` avvio alla sua stagione maggiore con Julius Caesar (Drag City, 1993). Affiancato da Kim Osterwalder al violoncello, Callahan riscopre l'armonia e l'orchestrazione, anche se lo fa a modo suo. Il country & western di 37 Push-Ups, la marcia per banda paesana di When You Walk e la serenata psichedelica di What Kind Of Angel vengono trasfigurate in romanze tanto spettrali quanto tragiche, fino ai vertici barocchi di Your Wedding (chitarra spagnoleggiante e violoncello minimalista) e Stick In The Mud (ben cinque minuti di pacato contrappunto classicheggiante). Chosen One corona la progressione verso la canzone. Il genio armonico di Smog si ritrova comunque nell'anemica e abulica Strawberry Rash, che sembra riprendere le note di Heroin dei Velvet Underground, rallentarle, macinarle, affogarle in un umore funereo e annoiato. I Am A Star Wars, con il riff di Honky Tonk Woman dei Rolling Stones, centellina la verve che Smog ha sempre nascosto dietro il suo tetro umore. La sofisticazione del metodo consente a Smog Stalled On The Tracks, lied espressionista contrappuntato da rumori pulsanti, e culmine forse della malinconia esistenziale di Callahan. Il disco conserva il carattere enigmatico dei precedenti. Si capisce che Smog non e` felice, ma non si capisce cosa stia cercando di comunicare. E` quanto meno ermetico il significato di sonata per violoncello come One Less Star, peraltro intrisa di pathos, o, per ritornare al demente solismo delle origini, di Connections. Sono "soltanto" tredici questa volta i brani, e non e` soltanto il formato che sta cambiando.

Preceduto dal singolo A Hit, con la splendida Wine-Stained Lips, il mini-album Burning Kingdom (Drag City, 1994), il suo primo disco a essere suonato da un vero complesso di musica rock e a vantare arrangiamenti professionali, perfeziona ulteriormente la tecnica "drammaturgica" di Smog. Preparato da una lunga introduzione di distorsioni snervanti, My Shell crea attraverso una trance da raga il senso di incubo. Smog riesuma le atmosfere arcaiche/esotiche di Nico in Drunk On The Stars. L'inquietante escursione di My Family (anche singolo di successo) si serve di una cadenza sinistramente cerimoniale. E con Desert Smog sprofonda in una solitudine che sfiora la claustrofobia.

Wild Love (Drag City, 1995) percorre lo stesso ombroso sentiero, con il passo pacato della maturita'. Le storie di Smog penetrano a fondo nell'animo dell'ascoltatore, imbevute di tristezza e solitudine, perche' sono avvolte in involucri sonori che le isolano dalla mondanita' del rock. Il suo pop da camera e' ormai un'arte a se stante: la portante di Bathysphere (uno dei suoi capolavori) e' un intreccio di minimalismo orchestrale e di solfeggi lunari, sulla quale corrono nervose figure di chitarra alla Television e il cantante imbastisce una litania alla Cure; il lungo, doloroso excursus di Prince Alone In The Studio si appoggia a un accorto contrappunto sinfonico, come se i primi King Crimson stessero eseguendo musiche di Nick Drake.
Alcune miniature hanno ridotto al minimo la parte vocale, come se a cantare fosse un moribondo, e accentuato al massimo la parte strumentale. Echi in lontananza, lugubri accordi degli strumenti ad arco e tintinni di campanelli tengono in vita Wild Love per poco piu' di un minuto. Il carillon dissonante di Sweet Smog Children, la marcia solenne di The Emperor fanno in effetti pensare a un discepolo (ascetico) di Brian Eno. La filastrocca di Goldfish Bowl rivela addirittura l'influenza di Michael Nyman negli schemi incalzanti dell'orchestra.
La melodia e la strumentazione rock riprendono il sopravvento soltanto nell'incubo delicato di It's Rough e nella dolente ballata di Be Hit.
Smog non sbaglia un brano, non spreca un secondo. Jim O'Rourke si presta gentilmente al violoncello, ma e' lui, Callahan, a decidere le sorti del disco, alternandosi a chitarra e tastiere.

L'EP Kicking A Couple Around (Drag City, 1996) e` invece un tributo al proprio passato, un ritorno in sordina al sound spartano, solitario e acustico del principio. Back In School, I Break Horses e The Orange Glow sperimentano un nuovo stile di recitazione, bisbigliato con lentezza narcotica su pochi e timidi accordi di chitarra, una sorta di esasperazione del tenue intimismo del primo Leonard Cohen. Your New Friend e` piu` un colloquio affettuoso in camera da letto che una canzone.

The Doctor Came At Dawn (Drag City, 1996), di nuovo interamente suonato da solo, delude invece le aspettative, sa di avanzi e di musica occasionale. Smog, forse distratto dal successo di Beck, perde tempo con ballate per voce e chitarra come Somewhere In The Night, Everything You Touch e Whistling Teapot. Prova persino a comporre una canzone normale, Four Hearts In A Can. Lo redimono la trance classicheggiante di You Moved In, cullata in rintocchi sparuti di pianoforte e in nuvole di languidi violini, la stasi allucinata di Spread Your Bloody Wings e la solenne meditazione alla Leonard Cohen di All Your Woman Things. Il genio viene a galla anche nel finale a cappella di Hangman Blues, forse il blues piu` lento e dimesso di tutti i tempi.

Red Apple Falls (Drag City, 1997) e` il disco di un classico, cosciente di aver creato uno stile e di avere ancora spazio per "viverlo" fino alla fine.
The Morning Paper potrebbe essere la colonna sonora di un documentario del quotidiano borghese, recitata con il tono di Donovan su una cadenza di chitarra e fra i solfeggi di un corno francese. Nel vuoto assoluto si svolge la tragedia interiore di Red Apples, mesta romanza pianistica appesa a un drone fievolissimo. La voce di Callahan agonizza in un sogno dai colori evanescenti, senz'aria, forse sottoterra. Callahan al suo piu` funereo non ha eguali al mondo. I Was A Stranger comincia con un tema melodico al pianoforte che e` degno di una sonata giovanile di Beethoven, poi si distende in un tema hawaiano (insolitamente vivace) della chitarra.
Soltanto il Cohen piu` filosofico, immerso in storie di fallimento e fatalismo, puo` lambire le vette emotive di Blood Red Bird e Red Apple Falls, e viene persino in mente il country-rock esistenziale di Gram Parsons (debitamente rallentato e piallato) per Inspirational. Callahan si permette persino di imitare il tono disincantato e il boogie leggero di Lou Reed in Ex-Con (fra le righe duettano il corno francese e il piano Hammond).
Callahan e` un geniale musicista che si trattiene di continuo dall'elaborare arrangiamenti complessi e che ha inventato uno stile classico di composizione e lo ha fatto (sta facendo) con fredda determinazione.
Questo album costituisce un po' la sutura fra i due stili attorno ai quali e` finora oscillata la sua arte, quello spartano di Kicking e quello barocco (per i suoi standard) di Wild Love.

Knock Knock (Drag City, 1999) represents, for a character as bashful and modest as Callahan, a considerable breakthrough. Smog's music would be almost unrecognizable, if it weren't for his singing and his lyrics. On one hand the care in the orchestration, on the other hand the stylistic variety contribute to transform his ghostly songs into elegant chamber compositions. So much so that Let's Move To The Country picks up Oh Superman's litany from an early Laurie Anderson single, the string section repeating a minimalist pattern. This could not be farther from his habitual style.
Smog has scored an album full of surprises. The story of No Dancing is "told" in David Bowie's decadent tone on a hard-rock riff, but the refrain is sung by a choir of children on amarching band's loud accompaniment. The syncopated rhythm and the guitar feedback of Held create the ideal setting for a Nick Cave melodrama, although the delivery is rather in the style of Lou Reed's cold and fatalistic baritone.
However, the most introverted moments remain the core of his art. In River Guard (six minutes) his subdued meditation, paced by the tolls of a slightly out-of-tune piano, is reminiscent of the young Neil Young in one of his most depressed moments or of Tom Waits is one of his most sober moments. Teenage Spaceship resuscitates Nick Drake's tenuous melisma and gloomy atmospheres. Sweet Treat sinks in existential void, two graveyards below Chris Isaak. The album takes on a meaning as soon as Callahan decides to shut down his life. This is his true ego, or at least the one where Callahan the artist is at his best.
Unfortunately, Knock Knock tends to "rock" too much. The heavy paced tracks are also the weakest. Cold Blooded Old Times fails, and even worse fares the lengthy Hit The Ground Running (seven minutes), both played to Lou Reed's lighter boogies. These and other inferior tracks keep the album from reaping the rewards it would deserve for the boldness of the arrangements.

Knock Knock (Drag City, 1999) costituisce, per un personaggio schivo e modesto come Callahan (nel frattempo trasferitosi a Chicago), un passo rivoluzionario. La musica di Smog e` quasi irriconoscibile, non fosse per il suo canto e i suoi testi. Da un lato la cura nell'orchestrazione, dall'altro la varieta` stilistica contribuiscono a trasformare le sue canzoni spettrali in forbite composizioni da camera. Tant'e` che Let's Move To The Country riprende la litania di Oh Superman (Laurie Anderson) con tanto di sezione d'archi a ripetere un pattern minimalista. Non potrebbe essere piu` lontano dal suo stile abituale.
Smog ha composto un disco pieno di sorprese. La storia di No Dancing e` "raccontata" nel tono decadente di David Bowie su un riff di hard-rock, ma il ritornello e` cantato in coro da un gruppo di bambini e accompagnato da una banda marciante con tanto di grancassa. Il ritmo sincopato da palude e il feedback di chitarra di Held costituiscono la scenografia ideale per un melodramma di Nick Cave, anche se la recitazione e` quella fredda e fatalista di Lou Reed.
I momenti introversi rimangono comunque il cuore della vicenda. In River Guard (sei minuti) la sua sommessa meditazione al ritmo dei rintocchi di un pianoforte leggermente stonato ricorda il giovane Neil Young in uno dei suoi momenti piu` depressi o Tom Waits in uno dei suoi momenti piu` lucidi. Teenage Spaceship resuscita il tenue melisma e le atmosfere funeree di Nick Drake. Sweet Treat sprofonda nel vuoto esistenziale, due cimiteri sotto Chris Isaak. Il disco palpita non appena Callahan decide di chiudersi in se`. E` questo il suo vero ego, o perlomeno quello in cui riesce a esprimersi meglio.
Purtroppo Knock Knock e` anche il suo disco piu` rock. I brani piu` ritmati sono proprio i piu` deboli. Non funziona Cold Blooded Old Times e ancor meno la prolissa Hit The Ground Running (sette minuti), entrambi all'insegna del boogie leggero di Lou Reed. Questi e altri brani nettamente inferiori alla media impediscono al disco di mietere gli allori che meriterebbe per l'audacia degli arrangiamenti.

Dongs Of Sevotion (Drag City, 2000) finds Smog drawn towards the mainstream sound that he used to shun, although still quite far from sounding like Michael Jackson or David Bowie. Callahan sings his own testament, Dress Sexy At My Funeral, in a Lou Reed-ian baritone and over a lighter variation of Velvet Underground's boogie. The theme of this and other selections is death, all the way down to Permanent Smile, a grotesquely martial hymn that sounds like a self-eulogy (with an obsessive guitar jangle that recalls minimalist repetition). Another highlight, Bloodflow, features an effervescent rhythm that turns the silliest lyrics of his career into a tribal dance number (somewhat reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk).
John McEntyre and Jeff Parker of Tortoise, who lend a hand, may be responsible for the looser, harsher textures: Smog recounts the litany of Justice Aversion while the electronic percussion emits sparse patterns and a psychedelic guitar wails in the background; Smog utters the lyrics of The Hard Road against the backdrop of disjointed Kinks-ian guitar riffs; Cold Discovery explores a repeated pattern of piano notes in a barren soundscape of ghostly guitar licks.
Callahan's true voice is still to be found in the down-to-earth, spare arrangements and subdued, mournful lament of Easily Led, Nineteen and Devotion, rather than in the complex and lenghty (eight minutes) melodrama of Distance.
The album is still as intense as Smog can be.

Smog contributes to the supersession Tramps Traitors and Little Devils (Drag City, 2001) with Edith Frost and Neil Hagerty.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Jacopo Fiorentino)

In Dongs Of Sevotion (Drag City, 2000) Smog sembra avvicinarsi a quei suoni pi— commmerciali che aveva sempre cercato di evitare, sebbene sia ancora molto lontano dall'assomigliare a Michael Jackson o a David Bowie. Callahan canta il proprio testamento, Dress Sexy At My Funeral nel tono di Lou Reed, sopra un boogie poco differente da quelli dei Velvet Underground. Il tema di questa e di altre canzoni e' la morte, come in Permanent Smile, un grottesco inno marziale che suona come un'auto elegia (con un ossessivo risuonare di chitarra che richiama le ripetizioni minimaliste). Un'altra hit, Bloodflow, e' caratterizzata da un ritmo effervescente che trasforma il piu' sciocco testo della sua carriera in una danza tribale (qualcosa di simile a Tusk) dei Fleetwood Mac's).
John McEntyre e Jeff Parker dei Tortoise, che lo hanno aiutato, possono essere i responsabili dei testi piu' duri e meno rigorosi del solito: Smog racconta la litania di Justice Aversion mentre le percussioni elettroniche emettono un motivo diradato, e una chitarra psichedelica geme in sottofondo; Smog pronuncia le parole di The Hard Road contro il sottofondo dei riff di una sconnessa chitarra Kinks-iana; Cold Discovery esplora una serie ripetuta di note del piano nello sterile sottofondo di una chitarra spettrale.
La vera voce di Callahan's puo' essere ritrovata nei sotterranei, diradati arrangiamenti, e nei sommessi e lacrimosi lamenti di Easily Led, Nineteen e Devotion, piuttosto che nel lungo e complesso (otto minuti) melodramma di Distance.
Quest'album Š ancora intenso come e' capace di essere Smog.

Smog ha partecipato alle supersession di Tramps Traitors and Little Devils (Drag City, 2001) con Edith Frost e Neil Hagerty.

Rain On Lens (Drag City, 2001) seems to halt Smog's quest for his (musical and personal) roots. After returning to a sparse, emotional, intensely intimate sound on Dongs, Smog advances to post-rock and, backed by Eleventh Dream Day's Rick Rizzo and U.S. Maples' guitarist Pat Samson, drenches his songs in cold, claustrophobic, brainy tension (its zenith in Dirty Pants). The beginning, Rain On Lens, is as dramatic and suspenseful as the Doors' The End, but little of what comes afterwards stands up to that unnerving, fear-laden ouverture. The problem is that Smog does not have the songs to match the ambition. With the notable exception of the touching Live As If Someone Is Always Watching You, the album feels like one hollow, monotonous recitation, one faceless dirge (Natural Decline) after the other (Keep Some Steady Friends Around). Smog's early masterpieces were stark, haunting, bleak. Smog's late is simply soporiferous.

Accumulation: None (Drag City, 2002) compiles rarities and remixed tracks.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Alessandro Isopo)

La ricerca delle radici (musicali e personali) di Smog sembra interrompersi con Rain On Lens (Drag City, 2001). Dopo essere tornato ad un suono rarefatto, emotivo ed intensamente personale su Dongs, Smog si inoltra nelle lande del post-rock e, supportato da Rick Rizzo degli Eleventh Dream Day e dal chitarrista degli U.S.Maples Pat Samson, decide di rivestire le sue canzoni di una tensione cerebrale, glaciale e claustrofobica (il massimo in Dirty Pants). L'inizio, Rain On Lens, è teso e drammatico quanto The End dei Doors, ma davvero poco di quello che segue riesce ad eguagliare il passo da incubo del capolavoro morrisoniano . L'impressione è che le ambizioni di Smog non riescano a materializzarsi nelle canzoni che propone. Con la ragguardevole eccezione della toccante Live As If Someone Is Always Watching You,l'album sembra solo una vuota e monotona recitazione, una litania senza volto dopo l'altra(Natural Decline e Keep Some Steady Friends Around). Il primo Smog componeva capolavori oscuri ed inquietanti. L'ultimo Smog è semplicemente soporifero.

Supper (Drag City, 2003) is an odd, almost schizophrenic collection, that ranges from the waltzing country elegy Feather by Feather to the Lou Reed-ian boogie Butterflies Drowned in Wine (with tribal drums, courtesy of Jim White). By the third song, the sloppy, dirty, slow-burning Rolling Stones-ian blues of Morality, Callahan-Smog has thrown the listener into his moral universe with little or no help from the lyrics (which are certainly not his best). It is the music alone that sets the tone, the pace and the mood.
The sequencing of the songs enhances this aspect of the album, as the songs get more and more solemn and rarefied, and the lyrics abandon Smog's companion to delve into metaphysical puzzles. Ambition spins its noir/lounge tale over tense, suspenseful guitar chords. Vessel in Vain returns to an old-fashioned pace, echoing Leonard Cohen in his prime, a feat doubled when the seven-minute Truth Serum brings back perfumes of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Driving is chanted like a Tibetan prayer over loose jamming.
It sounds like Smog has entered a new phase of his career and of his life. The voice of the closing A Guiding Light, the philosophical apex of this journey (in which Callahan finds his "guiding light" in the statement he just made of "trying to prove wrong/ all the statements I made"), is the voice of a man who stands calmly on the threshold of his house, looking outside, and sees the same old place with new eyes.
Smog has achieved an intriguing synthesis of the languages coined over the decades by legions of singer-songwriters. In doing so, Smog's art has lost quite a bit of what made it so personal (it has lost emotional depht), but it has gained immensely in its universal appeal as a sound and a voice of its times.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da Davide Ariasso)

Supper (Drag City, 2003) è una raccolta eccentrica e quasi schizofrenica, che spazia dall’elegia country a tempo di valzer di Feather by feather al boogie loureediano Butterflies Drowned in Wine (con i tamburi tribali di Jim White). Alla terza canzone, l’abborracciato, sporco, rovente e lento blues rollingstoniano di Morality, Callahan-Smog ha ormai trascinato l’ascoltatore dentro il suo universo morale, quasi senza l’ausilio delle liriche (che non sono di certo le sue migliori). E’ la musica da sola a creare lo stile, il ritmo e l’umore complessivo del disco.

La sequenza delle canzoni intensifica questo aspetto dell’album, con brani che diventano sempre più solenni e rarefatti e liriche che abbandonano i cliché di Smog per scavare in oscuri enigmi metafisici. Ambition tesse il suo racconto noir/lounge su accordi carichi di tensione ed ansia. Vessel in Vain ritorna ad umori vecchio stile richiamando il primo Leonard Cohen, impresa raddoppiata dai sette minuti di Truth Serum, che riportano alla memoria le fragranze di Astral Weeks di Van Morrison. Driving è come una preghiera tibetana cantata su libere improvvisazioni.

Sembra che Smog sia entrato in una nuova fase della sua carriera e della sua vita. La voce che si sente nella conclusiva A Guiding Light, l’apice filosofico di questo viaggio (in cui Callahan dichiara di trovare la sua luce guida "cercando di confutare/tutte le dichiarazioni che ho fatto"), è la voce di un uomo che, affacciato alla soglia della sua casa, guarda tranquillo il solito posto con occhi nuovi. Smog ha portato a compimento un’intrigante sintesi dei linguaggi coniati nel corso di decenni da legioni di cantanti-cantautori. In questo processo la sua arte ha perso un po’ di ciò che la rendeva così personale (in particolar modo la profondità emotiva), ma ci ha anche guadagnato immensamente, diventando espressione universale di un suono e di una voce del proprio tempo.

Not as intimate as it used to be (in fact, quite public and almost extroverted), Bill "Smog" Callahan went south to record A River Ain't Too Much To Love (Drag City, 2005), featuring Joanna Newsom on piano, Connie Lovatt on bass and Dirty Three's Jim White on drums. It made sense, since his art had become rather similar (in scope, if not in sound) to country Music: confessional but whined to the world, melancholy but fundamentally positive in nature, narrative more than contemplative, tuneless but packaged in an easily recognizably format. Give him credit that he writes much more interesting lyrics than the best country songwriters can ever dream of writing, and that he has a flair for tactful and tasty arrangements. Maybe Callahan has decided to rejoin his fellow citizens after living his teenage years in snobbish isolation. This is, after all, an album of American music, coupling American imagery and American roots-music. The Well, Drinking at the Dam, I Feel Like the Mother of the World fit well in this category, while the sophisticated and humble arrangements of Rock Bottom Riser (one of the highlights) and the likes remind us of where he came from. Whatever the rationale, Smog made his honky-tonk album and is ready for mass acceptance.

As a veteran and consummate angst consumer, Callahan sounds a lot less engaging that he used to sound as a young and awkward angst producer. Woke On A Whaleheart (Drag City, 2007) treads in the footprints of Smog's early music but, at the same time, seems torn between Neil Hagerty's psycho production and the funk/soul sound of the 1960s. Sycamore, The Wheel and especially Diamond Dancer sound both old introverted Smog and someone (extroverted) else. The majestic love song From The Rivers To The Ocean and A Man Needs A Woman Or A Man To Be A Man bookend the song cycle of a rather superficial observer. If Smog/Callahan's career was a long tortuous form of catharsis, then this album marks the point when the catharsis is complete and Smog has simply become a traditional pop songwriter and arranger.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Tobia D’Onofrio)

Non più intimo e riservato come un tempo (anzi, ormai sotto gli occhi di tutti e quasi estroverso), Bill "Smog" Callahan si sposta a sud per registrare A River Ain’t Too Much Love (Drag City, 2005), che vede Joanna Newsom al piano, Connie Lovatt al basso e Jim White dei Dirty Three alla batteria. Tutto questo ha senso, dal momento che la sua arte è diventata molto simile (come campo d’azione, più che come sound) alla musica country: confessionale, ma lamentosa nei confronti del mondo; malinconica, ma dalla natura fondamentalmente ottimista; narrativa più che contemplativa; disarmonica, ma confezionata in un format facilmente riconoscibile. Bisogna dare credito al fatto che qualsiasi cantante country non riuscirebbe a scrivere testi così interessanti, neanche in sogno; e bisogna riconoscere il grande talento nel ricercare accorti e deliziosi arrangiamenti. Forse Callahan ha deciso di riunirsi ai suoi concittadini dopo aver vissuto la sua giovinezza in snobistico isolamento. Dopo tutto, questo è un album di musica americana, che mette insieme l’immaginario americano e la musica roots. Rientrano perfettamente in questa categoria The Well, Drinking At The Dam, I Feel Like The Mother Of The World, mentre gli umili e sofisticati arrangiamenti di Rock Bottom Riser ci ricordano da dove Bill è partito.

Qualunque sia la giustificazione logica, Smog ha scritto il suo album honky-tonk ed è pronto per essere accettato dalla massa.

Adesso che è diventato un vecchio e consumato divoratore d’angoscia, Callahan suona molto meno seducente rispetto a quando ne era un giovane e goffo produttore. Woke On A Whaleheart (Drag City, 2007) procede sulle orme del primo sound degli Smog, ma allo stesso tempo sembra indeciso fra la produzione psycho di Neil Hagerty ed il funk/soul degli anni Sessanta. Sycamore, The Wheel e soprattutto Diamond Dancer sembrano un incrocio fra il vecchio Smog introverso e qualcun altro (estroverso). La maestosa canzone d’amore From The Rivers To The Ocean e A Man Needs A Woman For A Man To Be A Man aprono e chiudono un ciclo di canzoni scritte da un osservatore piuttosto superficiale. Se la carriera di Smog/Callahan è stata una lunga e tortuosa forma di catarsi, allora quest’album segna il punto in cui la catarsi è completa e Smog è semplicemente diventato un arrangiatore e cantautore pop tradizionale.

Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (Drag City, 2009), the second album released under his real name, continued the transformation into smoky pop-blues singer with twangy guitar and discreet string arrangements, a sort of sober counterpart to Tom Waits' glorious madness. His dreadfully calm and monotonous voice tries in vain to modulate a melody in Jim Cain That voice would kill a whale, if it weren't for the occasionally creative arrangements. And so it's the staccato piano, the dark horns and the propulsive strings that turn Eid Ma Clack Shaw into a magic experience, somewhere between the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby and Morphine. The sequence of Middle-eastern horns, mourning cello, jazzy guitar and soaring violin makes The Wind and the Dove moving in a way that the melody alone would not have achieved. Rococo Zephyr is a folkish lullabye adrift in neoclassical string harmonies over a somnolent lounge rhythm. The trotting rhythm is the main attraction on All Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast, as a variety of instruments alternate in taking centerstage, something that evokes Stan Ridgway's epos especially as it rolls towards its thundering finale. Callahan intones a Cat Stevens-ian sermon in the ten-minute Faith/Void, that repeats the mantra "It's time to put god away" among majestic violins.
The arrangements, in other words, are much more than wallpaper: they drive the narrative part of the song as much as the lyrics do, and are responsible for most of the emotional part. The lyrics, on the other hand, mostly provide an obsessive and somewhat goofy self-portrait that does not quite match the music. Too Many Birds might point to the future: just plain lightweight pop music for supermarkets.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Giuseppe Bonafede)

Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle (Drag City, 2009),il secondo album pubblicato con il suo vero nome , continua la trasformazione in grigio cantante pop-blues con chitarra acuta e discreti arrangiamenti d'arco; una sorta di seria controparte della gloriosa follia di Tom Waits. La sua calma reverenziale e la sua voce monotona prova in vano a modulare una melodia in Jim Cain. La  voce potrebbe uccidere balene se non fosse per gli arrangiamenti solo occasionalmente creativi;e quindi sono le sue note staccate di piano ,il corno oscuro e gli archi propulsivi che fanno di  Eid Ma Clack Shaw  un'esperienza magica, da qualche parte tra  Eleanor Rigby dei Beatles e i Morphine.La sequenza di corni mediorientali, violoncello straziante e ascendenti violini portano The Wind and the Dove in una direzione in cui la melodia da sola non può arrivare. Rococo Zephyr è una ninnananna folk abbandonata a neoclassiche armonie d'arco su ritmi sonnolenti e rilassati.Il ritmo trotterellante è la principale attrazione di Thoughts are Prey to Some Beast come un vortice di strumenti che si alternano evocando gli epos di Stan Ridgway  sopratutto quando romba in un finale tuonante. Callahan intona un sermone alla Cat Stevens nei dieci minuti di Faith/Void in cui ripete il mantra "It's time to put god away" immerso in violini solenni.

Gli arrangiamenti in altre parole sono più che uno sfondo;conducono la parte narrativa della canzone più di quanto non faccia il testo , ed è per la maggior parte loro il merito del lato emotivo dell'album. I testi ,dal canto loro,spesso dipingono un autoritratto ossessivo e quasi goffo che non si accorda del tutto alla musica. Too Many Birds  potrebbe puntare al futuro:Semplice e leggera musica pop da supermercato.

Rough Travel For A Rare Thing (2010) is a live album performed in the style of a bar band.

Apocalypse (2011), again credited to Bill Callahan, is the natural continuation of Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle. The opulent sound (by his standards) guides the listener through th Western-inspired Drover, the pompous America and especially pensive and touching Riding For the Feeling and One Fine Morning.

Dream River (Drag City, 2013) coupled Callahan's static, middle-aged baritone with goofy Latin-tinged arrangements. The combination works only in a few cases, like when Javelin Unlanding appears to be mocking spaghetti-western soundtracks of the 1960s, or in the jazzy atmosphere of Ride My Arrow (too bad that Callahan does not have the vocal skills to sustain what Van Morrison or Tim Buckley would have turned into an epic Latin-jazz jam). The sense of desolation and internal struggle that this music is meant to evoke is broadcast in all its terrible power only by Summer Painter, thanks to an extraterrestrial flute and a pulsing bass line. Small Plane adapts the structure of Pachelbel's looping Canon to one of his memorable narratives. The other songs, however, tend to lose momentum because their music is just too evanescent. Callahan never was a great lyricist, and he hasn't improved much. When the music is downplayed, one is left with a very minor bard singing about trivial subjects.

Have Fun With God (2014) is a dub remix of Dream River.

Bill Callahan's sprawling 20-song Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (2019) is a calm, detached work, and also one of his "easiest". Now 53 years old and settled into domestic life with a wife and a son, Callahan sounds disarmingly "domestic", where even the sounds of his family life become part of the music. Callahan offers his views on life in the usual spartan settings but paying more attention to the accompaniments, a level of attention that makes songs such as Writing, Tugboats and Tumbleweeds and Watch Me Get Married sound more lively (but sometimes the arrangement exaggerates, like in The Ballad of The Hulk, that employs a drum-machine). The album begins in typical Smog fashion, with his growling un-musical voice halfway between Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen introducing Shepherd's Welcome, and then indulges in simple heartfelt tunes such as the serenade What Comes After Certainty and the agonizing Circles. but the stately honky-tonk of Black Dog on the Beach and the bluesy, waltzing Son of the Sea show that the center of mass has shifted, and this is now more Gordon Lightfoot than Leonard Cohen. The problem is that the album overstays its welcome after ten minutes, and beyond that it's painful to pick the songs that are worth it. A more traditional folk style surfaces in 747, with some of his most philosophical lines ("There was blood when you were born and the blood was wiped from your eyes/ This must be the light you saw that just left you screaming/ And this must be the light you saw before our eyes could disguise true meaning/ And this must be the light you saw just as you were leaving") and in Call Me Anything ("I never was the things I said I was/ But it's not as if I lied/ What I was, all I was/ Was the effort to describe/ The effort to describe"). The lowest point is a cover of the traditional Lonesome Valley.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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