Smog | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Over the course of some half dozen Smog records, Bill Callahan's dark emotions, stark arrangements, and quavering, naked voice had begun to sound a little claustrophobic. On the new Red Apple Falls (Drag City), however, his unrefined, often desperate outpourings are cushioned by a much wider array of colors that contribute a previously absent dimension to the songs. Whether it's the way a contrapuntal French horn line intersects the buzzing monotony of acoustic guitar on "The Morning Paper," or how a pretty steel-guitar part plays devil's advocate to the bitterly sorrowful lyrics of "I Was a Stranger," Red Apple Falls seems less an exercise in overt moroseness than the product of a mature, coherent vision. There's still no mistaking Callahan's work for cream puffs, but the bleakness is countered by some smart turns of phrase ("I was worse than a stranger / I was well-known"). Callahan's heightened complexity is finally approaching that of his oft-cited points of reference, mope kings Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen. Label mates USA and Edith Frost open. Sunday, 9 PM, Lounge Ax, 2438 N. Lincoln; 773-525-6620. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Smog photo by Bernd Botlander.


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