Bill Callahan Creates Mystical Calm on CD

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Guarino Daily Herald Music Critic

Bill Callahan has a flatlands voice, a plainsman's voice. He could slip inside a Grant Wood painting and who'd blink? "Let's move to the country," he suggests at the start of his seventh album, "Knock Knock" (Drag City) and you can guess he doesn't mean the Dells.

As the one-man operation Smog, Callahan reflects on, as one song title says, "Cold Blooded Old Times," with a dry eye. His sound carves things just as clean. Listening intently to the finely focused instrumentation and unexpected sounds (a chorus of kids join him twice) creates a tense but deeply emotional world.

"Hit the Ground Running," the most realized song here, builds like a tiny kingdom. Only occasionally, during "Sweet Treat" or "I Could Drive Forever," do the nodding, lazy reverb guitars wash things away the same.

But Callahan's real strength is his ear for not just words, but the right words. Not unlike a concise short fiction writer, Callahan uses his tight, tunnel vision to paint stunning images such as prisoners "floating on their backs" as "a way to be free" on "River Guard." Or later, on "Teenage Spaceship," Callahan declares he was "flying around the houses at night ... so large on the horizon people thought my windows were stars. …