Bill Callahan performs Thursday, April 19, at Sons of Hermann Hall.
Based on the uncharacteristically lively Woke on a Whaleheart, the latest album by Bill Callahan (aka Smog), it seems dating fellow Drag City artist Joanna Newsom has worked out exceedingly well for the enigmatic singer-songwriter. The union has also succeeded splendidly for fans, as the albumeasily ranks among Callahan's finest work to date. Produced with panache by fellow lo-fi auteur Neil Michael Hagerty, Whaleheart finds Callahan stretching into the type of blue-eyed soul that past favorites such as "Dress Sexy at My Funeral" only hinted at; had the Temptations been signed to Drag City, they might have produced something as smooth as "Sycamore," which sees Callahan perfectly at home with sparkling acoustic guitars and gospel backing vocals, while the bass-propelled disco-blues of "Diamond Dancer" is nearly as danceable as the Stones' "Miss You." And though he may have recorded his last album at Willie Nelson's Pedernales studio, this time around Callahan nearly makes his own Shotgun Willie, mixing genres like a true master and even turning in a gospel-country tune ("The Wheel") in the style of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"—"to make my home, Lord/In a stable spoke, Lord/Inside a turning wheel/Would be good." But one listen to "Honeymoon Child" and it's no secret who the real influence on Whaleheart is, with Callahan singing "You bring out the soft side in everyone/We gather like ravens on a rusty sign/Just to watch such a little dove/Fly away."