Sympathetic Stupid

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Smog: A River Ain't Too Much To Love

I've been trying to work out why I prefer this album to Sime Nugent's The Undertow which I've also been recently listening to. My conclusion seems to be that it's the difference between roots and folk; and possibly also the difference of a decade or so of experience in making albums. Nugent plays bluesy roots, it's mainly quicker and busier, more instruments and sound. In some ways it seems that he tries to oversell the songs. It's a pretty good album, as I've said before, but by no means a classic.

Callaghan, however, has crafted a very good folk album from minimal ingredients. Just the staples; most of the tracks are guitar and voice, with occasional drums sneaking in, and a little fiddle and piano. The words often mean Dylan-eqsue-ly little, but the phrasing and delivery is just idiosyncratic enough to be interesting, while Callaghan's deep and musical voice is compelling. He speak-sings his lines without a surfeit of emotion, putting a bit more effort in when necessary.

The initial highlight of the album is The Well, a prosaic tale of Bill wandering into the woods in search of a bottle he'd impulsively tossed in there. It's a narrative of nothing, building up to the understated climax where Bill gives 'my red rage/my yellow streak/the greenest parts of me/and my blues' to the black of the well, because 'black is all colours at once'. I Feel Like The Mother Of The World has Bill telling the world, as his mother once told him, 'it does not matter/just stop fighting'; a naive but well-meant political statement in the grand tradition of folk. My favourite track is I'm New Here, a nice picked guitar part reminiscent of McCartney's Blackbird underpinning some nice advice: 'no matter how far wrong you've gone/you can always turn around'.

It's a happy, or at least optimistic album. And it has tunes to match the best that's out there. Wholly enjoyable.