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Rough Travel For a Rare Thing

Submitted by on March 19, 2010 – 10:04 amOne Comment

For those of you old or cool enough to own a record player, let me recommend a purchase. An album is set to be released that may prompt this writer to buy an LP for the first time, despite not having anything to play it on. ‘Rough Travel For a Rare Thing’ is a first for singer songwriter Bill Callahan (aka Smog), in that it is both vinyl only and a live recording. His only one in a career spanning two decades.

A live environment could be seen as not the most fitting for an artist that often epitomizes and perhaps glorifies solitude. Known for his dark, introspective lyrics and deep, deadpan voice, much of his work has served as a soundtrack for depression and introspection. But such a reputation is perhaps unfair for an artist who has constantly evolved and become more and more diverse throughout the years. His latest work has been confident and complete, with old themes of isolation and romantic frustration (sometimes bordering on misogyny) being replaced with much more varied subject matter. His dry sense of humour is increasingly apparent and romance is a topic that becomes more celebrated and less vilified with every album.

Musically Callahan has undergone a complete transformation. His early work was that of a lo-fi pioneer. Influenced heavily by artists such as Jandek, albums like ‘Forgotten Foundation’ and ‘Sewn To The Sky’ were deliberately messy and disjointed affairs. Full of short abrasive tracks with cheap production values and a distinct lack of almost anything resembling what could be called a ‘song’, they were a challenge to say the least. But throughout the 90s his talents as a ‘songwriter’ in the more traditional sense began to shine through and his lyrics became very much the focus and less the accompaniment to his work. Country influences became more apparent as albums ‘Red Apple Falls’ and ‘Knock Knock’ really symbolised his transformation. Both are fantastic and demand repeated listens to really bring out the subtleties of his song writing.

Moving into the 00s he has become one of the flag bearers of the increasingly popular alt-country/folk genre. Artists such as his one time girlfriend Joanna Newsom have entered the mainstream conscience, but Callahan has only got better and stands out more and more amongst a stream of mediocre, whiney guitar strummers. Having ditched the alias of Smog, his last two studio albums have been released under his own name, with the latest ‘Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle’ ranking amongst his very best.

For those who are yet to hear his work, there is no better time to try. Bill Callahan is an artist that is getting better with every release and if you enjoy them, his extensive back catalogue can keep you musically occupied for some time to come.

Rough Travel For a Rare Thing is out on March 29th
For a preview see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MHVNUrcyJy8

One Comment »

  • TheRealRoxanne says:

    You’re seriously thinking of buying an LP you’ll never be able to play? I’ve a stack of Betamax tapes here you might be interested in. And the collected works of Nathanael West in Welsh. Fiver to the DF and they’re yours.

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