BILL CALLAHAN, SIR RICHARD BISHOP | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

BILL CALLAHAN, SIR RICHARD BISHOP 

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I'm not sure why BILL CALLAHAN decided to retire the Smog moniker and put out Woke on a Whaleheart (Drag City) under his own name. There's no sudden shift on the new album: Callahan just takes another step down the path he's been on since his obscurantist lo-fi days, moving steadily toward clarity. His melodies have grown more direct and satisfying, and his lyrics have developed a clearer focus on the unstable ephemera that arise from human relationships--each time out Callahan renders his subjects with a bit more empathy and philosophical maturity. In "Diamond Dancer" he sees in a woman's hard dancing the evidence that she's finally decided to fight her fear of the world, and in "Sycamore," over a lattice of graceful, meandering guitar and violin, the narrator remembers how a friend's father taught him to box and finds in those lessons a larger wisdom. The record was coproduced by Neil Hagerty, who helped shape the rather nonchalant arrangements--they don't do any favors for shticky tunes like the country dud "The Wheel," but fortunately that sort of material is in short supply. I still have to get used to Callahan's clipped baritone all over again on every new record, but his continuing evolution as a songwriter makes the effort worth it. --Peter Margasak

The Sun City Girls did a lot of things in their quarter century together--faux-ethnic pop, free-improv clatter, conspiracy-theory radio plays, a spot-on version of Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones"--but they rarely toured. Now that their drummer, Charles Gocher, has died of cancer, they never will again. But SCG guitarist SIR RICHARD BISHOP had embarked on a career of his own even before Gocher fell ill, touring relentlessly and amassing a solo discography almost as catholic as his old band's. The forthcoming Polytheistic Fragments, his sixth solo disc and first for Drag City, deftly shuffles quasi-Indian reveries, Django-esque melodic flights, and terse Chet Atkins-style picking, then wraps up with a languid desert-walking finale. Bishop is best experienced live, though: his piratical demeanor and enormous energy make it easy to forget it's just one guy with an acoustic guitar up there. --Bill Meyer

Callahan headlines and Bishop opens. See also Saturday. Advance tickets to the Friday show are sold out. a 9 PM, Lakeshore Theater, 3175 N. Broadway, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $14, $12 in advance. A

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