Smog - A River Ain't Too Much To Love

It begins well with the succinct Palimpsest: stark acoustic guitar, lyrics that firmly establish the narrator as a drifting outsider ("Why is everybody looking at me/ like there's something fundamentally wrong?"), and Bill Callahan's voice, which, if hardly musical, is instantly recognisable and engaging in a way that's been compared to Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen. Smog is pretty much Callahan alone, an American singer/songwriter who has been releasing material since the late 1980s and whose tunes have turned up on the soundtracks of the films High Fidelity and Dead Man's Shoes.

It may be churlish to complain that A River Ain't Too Much To Love is rather one-note. Only occasionally is shading added to the backdrop of acoustic guitar, such as piano (Rock Bottom Riser) or whistling (In The Pines). This, along with the linear nature of the songs, gives the impression of a record driven by story-telling.

As the titles suggest, this is very much a "rural" album; thus tracks about shouting down wells and drinking ("at the dam" or in bars). The lyrics often describe solitary time-wasting ("I lay on the bed... /getting off on the pornography of my past/ lighting matches and dropping them into a wet glass"), and there's a frequent dry wit amongst the melancholy.

So some nice words and perhaps enough meat to write an English essay on, but A River Ain't Too Much To Love, which may or may not gain kudos for being recorded at Texan studios used by Willie Nelson, also requires a massive investment of patience.



out of 10

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