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Bill Callahan 

Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City)

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Of course Bill Callahan now crafts exquisite rural pop, crooning quixotic verse like "You are a true honeymoon child/Conceived on an island on the sun/Heels dug in white sand/Loved and adored from day one." I mean, think about it: The dude actually dates indie-goddess No. 1 -- Joanna Newsom. That's reason enough for any musician to rewrite Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" nine times over, which is exactly what Callahan did for Woke on a Whaleheart.

From 1988 to 2005, Callahan went by the name Smog (a very unromantic moniker, mind you) while helping define lo-fi folk, a sound that's great for miserable twerps communicating naked introversion, but wholly inappropriate when "A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to Be a Man," the title of Whaleheart's closing tune. Where Callahan's basso profundo once skated around the rim of a psychic black hole, it now sounds like the voice of a bard puffing out his chest the best he can, drunkenly hopping from word to word, even asking listeners on the tune "Day" to "Please strive towards the light."

Naturally, it's all a bit hokey -- like Dylan's greatest love song. And with co-producer Neil Michael Hagerty's gospel-infused arrangements swirling around him, Callahan even plays the fool at times. But why not? The guy totally scored.

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