Bill Callahan—previously known to fans as “Smog”—is recognized for deadpan depression lit only by impassioned romanticisms. His earlier albums dabbled in everything from alt-country to experimental cacophony, and though his newest release has similar leanings, it’s considerably more structured.
With a few exceptions, each song on Woke on a Whaleheart is intriguing, even if the album lacks cohesion as a whole. In “From the Rivers to the Ocean,” Callahan belts out dramatic declarations like, “and the river grew higher and wider and deeper and darker...and it led me to you,” and “we were swimming in the rivers of the rains of our days…” while piano and violin back up the questionable claim with confidence. This is the good part of Woke on a Whaleheart; Callahan’s Neil Diamond-like moments show no shame in being boldly fantastical.
Things get off-track with less clever tracks like “Honeymoon Child,” which drowns in 1970s groovy vapidness, and “A Man Needs A Woman or A Man to be A Man,” which succumbs to the boring insistence that all men are children and women the moral backbone to save them. Axing the mundane songs and polishing the grander ones would have been the wise choice. (Erika Fredrickson)
Bill Callahan plays the Badlander with Wartime Blues and Jessica Kilroy Friday, Oct. 12, at 9 PM. $10.