Bill Callahan: Apocalypse

Bill Callahan — who, as Smog, spent nearly 20 years massaging his low-fi sound — brandishes a deadpan baritone and a trickster sense of humor. The centerpiece of his third disc under his own name is "America!" — on which he makes "Native American" rhyme with Afghanistan, Vietnam and Iran, and fires off guitar volleys that recall Jimi Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner." But the man clearly relishes supersize American grandeur: The album's gentle bookends, "Drover" and "One Fine Morning," follow a cattle driver's arc from heartbreak all the way to the afterlife. Throughout, Callahan swings elegantly from soft and gorgeous to black and grinding. He's a tough man to pin down.

Listen to Bill Callahan's "America!":

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