Bill Callahan isn't the sort of songwriter that says he's maturing, growing or blooming. He's getting older. It's time: In 1984, Callahan was a teenage Replacements addict, editing the band's first fanzine, Willpower. By 1988, he was recording his own material--dark, vaguely melodic brambles from the proto-lo-fi universe, self-released as Smog. Two decades, a dozen albums and as many EPs into it, he's crossed from bitter to battered, Maryland to Chicago and wound up somewhere on the southside of Austin, Texas. That's where he recorded A River Ain't Too Much to Love, his most careful, arranged and quiet album to date, an ambling, creeping affair reconciling itself with the folk of his new homestead.
Sure, most would call that a "maturing" move, and, lyrically, that claim finds River as validation: Resignations to permanent displacement, vows to mother, father and sister, and recalcitrant refusal to answer big questions comprise its entrails. But, for Callahan, getting older hasn't meant staving his young man's edge of sharp honesty with some defeatist need to appease: It's just made the struggle to stay lucid more self-reflective. River puts Callahan's microcosm and the surrounding macrocosm in equally strict focus, and the reflections that emerge on broken souls and busted relationships lack the sentimentality of nostalgia. Instead, they're bone-dry assertions of atonement, offered like latchkeys for the next move. "Humiliation is good/ It means you believe in something," sings Callahan. Right, and thanks for not apologizing.
Smog plays with Vibrant Green at Local 506 on Thursday, Oct. 5 at 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $10.