A River Ain't Too Much To Love
/drag city; 2005/



I live in an apartment on top of the city and i can hear girls laughing in the street, teenage girls laughing manically under their hormones' pressure. Often cold blood rushes through my veins as i hear a girl's scream, only to discover after a few seconds of me standing still trying to get whether or not she is actually being attacked or just releasing her inner tension, that she is laughing at some guy who is usually bullying her.

Bill Callahan's new record is soft, quiet and almost serene. It's also one of his very best records, much more impressive than 2002's Supper. In a River Ain't Too Much To Love, he croons quietly while gently strumming or picking his nylon guitar strings while the Dirty Three's Jim White plays the drums. The album was recorded in Austin, his new home, and it smells of southern fields, of lazy naps under a heavy sun.

"The Well" is the song everyone is talking about, a seven minutes tempo-switching skeleton-beast, about the metaphysical encounter of Bill and a well. The music follows his lyrics perfeclty, softly underlining the changes of tone and content. It's a story put in music more than an actual song, an all acoustic, minimalist band effort.

While "The Well" is undeniably brilliant, my favourite is "Rock Bottom Riser" which i cant help but consider as a reply to Burning Kingdom's "My Family" Callahan starts the songs by singing "I love my mother, i love my father, i love my sisters too". He's appeased, more confident than ever about his talent and from what i hear, as close as he's ever been to being happy. That doesn't imply that he's lost his knack for crafting great songs with two chords. There's a laid-back feeling throughout the record, despite a couple of deeply moving songs, and it feels like you're being taken to a cloudy dream through woods, fields, towns and bars by your good old buddy Bill. His singing is better than ever, his songwriting concise and efficient, as always, using the bare minimum.

After listening to his 11th record, and about 12 years after releasing his debut on drag city, Smog sounds more than ever like the underrated, discreet master-songwriter he hinted he was... A River Ain't Too Much To Love is my favourite record of the year so far.

-Barbara H

---'s SEB WOOD's review:

Why A River ain’t too Much to Love ??

Why these nice disillusioned distant back-voices are limited to ‘Say Valley Makers’ ??

Is love really like a river ?? I was taught it was life that was like a river, wasn’t I ?? "There is no love where there is no bramble, there is no love on the hacked-away plateau, and there is no love in the unerring." Is love about accepting the other’s flaws ??

Does ‘Say Valley Maker’ sound like Songs Ohia ??

Why is there no song as tense as the ones on Rain on Lens ??

Why ‘The Well’ is the only incredibly appealing track reminding The Velvet Underground and carrying on with Supper’s electric tracks ??

Why do I think of Japanese cartoon character Patrick Callahan each time I think of Bill Callahan ??

‘Why is everybody looking at me like there’s something from the mentally wrong, like I’m a southern bird that stayed north too long ??’

What is wrong about winter ??

Is the nice disenchanted opener named ‘Palimpsest’ to indicate that all these songs have been written over old ones ??

Is it a morning spring album, an afternoon summer album or a white night one ??

Isn’t Callahan’s indolent way of singing really really nice ??

Is ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ an homage to Robert Wyatt ??

Is Joanna Newsom really playing piano on this song ??

Is ‘In the Pines’ a mocking laid-back cover of ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ ??

Do ‘I Feel like the Mother of the World’ sound like a cacophonic shambles ??

Did taking baths with his sister when he was young entail a mess in his mind ??

Is writing song just about not forgetting memories ??

Is life just about drowning in vivid recollections ??

What can you possibly drink at the dam ?? Still water ??

Why do I feel like this album was recorded by an old man pensively remembering his lost youth in the open country ??

Do you hear cows in ‘Let Me See the Colts’ ??

Isn’t ‘I’m New Here’ one of the best introspective country ballads you’ve heard ??

‘No matter how far you’ve gone, you can always turn around’ ??

‘Met a woman in a bar, told her I was hard to get to know and impossible to forget. She said I had an ego on me the size of Texas.’ Doesn’t that line sound like a movie ??

Does this album could be the soundtrack to peaceful moments in Golden Age westerns ??

Even if A River Ain’t too Much to Love a bit uneven, is it one of the best albums released this year ??

If you an alt-coutry fan (or whatever you call it) and you don’t like this album, I guess you will enjoy the next one because Callahan seems to have the same relation to music he has to love: "So bury me in wood and I will splinter, bury in stone and I will quake, bury me in water and I will geyser, bury me in fire and I'm gonna phoenix, I'm gonna phoenix." Am I wrong ??

SEB ‘??’ WOOd.

/june 1st 2005/