Bill Callahan began as Smog when Sewn to the Sky (1990) awoke the lo-fi spirit bands like Times New Viking would revisit 15 years later. But by Smog’s 11th album, A River Ain’t Too Much (2005), the murky recordings had evolved into a distinct, eloquent neo-Americana vision. Abandoning the Smog moniker in 2007, he has since delivered three albums built on ascetic instrumentation, his deep, Leonard Cohen-esque voice, and some of the most compelling songwriting of the last 20 years. On Apocalypse (2011), he brushes aside cobwebs to confront the ghost-ridden corridors of the American psyche head-on. The acoustic instruments encounter a twangy, overdriven electric guitar on the tempo-shifting “Baby’s Breath,” where the protagonist’s wisdom comes too late: “She was not a weed, she was a flower.” Callahan’s vision isn’t completely tragic, though; like the best American writers, it’s brimming with humor and elusive pathways toward redemption.
Sat., July 9, 9pm. $14. With Hidden Ritual. Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave. 215.739.9684. johnnybrendas.com
PW's Music Issue 2014