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Woke on a Whaleheart

7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 24, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

You could say this is Bill Callahan's debut album. Although he's sired a dozen albums under the name of Smog, he has laid that name to rest and, well, WOKE ON a WHALEHEART. Another debut. With the same maverick spirit of, say, a Nilsson or a Cat Stevens, Bill Callahan has made an album that is born of no school of music other than what is in his heart and soul. Boasting the propulsive, glittering and classically pretty arrangements of Neil Michael Hagerty, this album manages to bypass the trends of the modern day while shunning retro entrapments. With a mix of gospel backing vocals by Deani Pugh-Flemmings of the Olivet Baptist Church, the incendiary guitar work of Pete Denton, and the honeyed violins of Elizabeth Warren, the music on this album touched on gospel, tough pop and American Light Opera.

Woke on a Whaleheart finds longtime lo-fi pioneer Bill Callahan stepping out under his own name for the first time from behind his nearly 20-year alias known simply as (Smog)--with or without the parentheses depending on the era. This new liberation hardly finds the songwriter indulging in solo album bombast (not surprising, since Smog was essentially a one-man project the whole time). Instead, Bill Callahan keeps his feet firmly on the artsy-pop ground. A haunting circular piano propels "Night" as if on an aerial starlit breeze, and "Diamond Dancer" could be an Ashes to Ashes-era David Bowie track, if the Thin White Duke handed vocals over to Lou Reed or the Jazz Butcher. Instrumentation is soothingly unobtrusive, and Callahan's conversational vocals are so relaxed, they occasionally threaten to fade away like a wisp of smoke. Oddly, his most impassioned singing comes on the country-shuffling "The Wheel," which turns a blues call-and-response on its ear, preceding sung lines with the same line spoken-word, as if Callahan is reminding himself of which lyrics come next. Make no mistake though--Bill Callahan knows exactly what he's doing, and Woke on a Whaleheart is a fine and fulfilling listen. --Ben Heege

Listen to Samples and Buy MP3s

Songs from this album are available to purchase as MP3s. Click on "Buy MP3" or view the MP3 Album.

Song Title Time Price
  1. From the Rivers to the Ocean 6:35$0.99  Buy MP3 
  2. Footprints 2:47$0.99  Buy MP3 
  3. Diamond Dancer 4:00$0.99  Buy MP3 
  4. Sycamore 5:35$0.99  Buy MP3 
  5. The Wheel 4:03$0.99  Buy MP3 
  6. Honeymoon Child 4:40$0.99  Buy MP3 
  7. Day 4:32$0.99  Buy MP3 
  8. Night 3:04$0.99  Buy MP3 
  9. A Man Needs A Woman Or A Man To Be A Man 5:12$0.99  Buy MP3 

Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 24, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Drag City
  • ASIN: B000MNP2X0
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #70,948 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Zach M. Douglas on April 24, 2007
Format: Audio CD
This is a great album (I wish I could stop there but I'm sure it would be more helpful to explain why I think that right?). Like all the Smog albums before it, Callahan's voice will haunt you. You'll hear his voice in your head saying random things while you are trying to wash the dishes or take out the trash. Things like "Monkeys Do" or "But it is day though" or those moments where he repeats certain lyrics.

I also like the songwriting on this album. Nothing is spelled out for you but with a little thought you should be able to figure out what the songs are about. Actually, you'll probably figure out about 70% quickly and then be trying to figure out the other 30% for a good while. It's a fine balance that not a long of song writers seem to have found between not being obvious but not being completely obtuse either. There are also certain themes and threads that run throughout the album (and similar ideas and themes from previous albums are repeated as well). Many of the typical smog elements are present.. life, death, love, sex... & wood and rivers! Musically Callahan has morphed his sound again although the production by Neil Michael Haggarty is not that different than some of the more recent albums. It's a fairly lo-fi affair although with more instrumentation than some of the previous efforts. Many songs do not have electric guitar but instead more strings and subtle organ riffs. Oh, and a gospel singer as well. I guess I should mention Bill does several gospel and country tunes: they finely straddle a line between subverting the genres and staying reverential to them. At least that is how I see it, your perception may vary as all of his work is very open to interpretation by the listener.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gregory William Locke on March 9, 2009
Format: Audio CD
Drag City Records' trifecta of post-Highway 61 Revisited songwriters - David Berman, Will Oldham, Bill Callahan - have arguably written some of the most poignant and poetic lyrics since Bob Dylan stopped counting syllables. Like Dylan, Berman (Silver Jews), Oldham (Palace, Bonnie `Prince' Billy) and Callahan (Smog) have always focused their art on the infinite ways words can be utilized to get across a thought, feeling, mood, belief or story. Also similar to Dylan, none of said trifecta would've made it into a show choir or Beach Boys cover band; needless to say, they sing from their hearts and heads rather than their guts.

While the other two songstuds are also entirely worthy of lengthy dissection, the songsmith in question so far in 2007 is Callahan, who just released Woke On a Whaleheart, his first album not adorning his 20-year-old Smog moniker. Why the change of artistic handle? No one not named Bill Callahan knows for certain, but the subtle style changes dripping throughout Whaleheart's 10 songs are a good place to start.

Lying somewhere between Berman's puzzle piece lyrics and Oldham's skewed stories and heartache is Callahan's open-to-interpretation brand of writing. Though there are far too many brilliant lines and word strings on Whaleheart to quote, "We were swimming in the rivers of the rains of our days before we knew / And it's hard to explain what I was doing or thinking before you," from the song "From The Rivers to the Ocean" (one of Whaleheart's many qualifiers for best-penned song of 2007) starts the album out nicely. The song features Callahan's trademark deep voice (sweet, rich and stern, just like any quintessential father figure), strong piano, violins and a slew of other pitch-perfect flourishes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Jim B on February 22, 2011
Format: Audio CD
If you don't know Callahan, "Sometimes I Wish I Were An Eagle" might be a better place to start. It's a less dense and more fully realized album. Eagle has a straightforward, mature clarity where this album is cased in a darker atmosphere. Callahan is a master songwriter, and exerts his mastery with control and nuance. Admittedly, the deadpan, baritone vocals can make for a tough entry point; as Scott Walker once complained, "baritone singing just puts people to sleep." But again, he knows how to use his vocals to both guide and serve the songs.
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Format: Audio CD
(SMOG)was the beginning of Bill Callahan's career. Within the period that he used that moniker, his music changed quite a bit. After his move to Texas, his style has changed again. I wouldn't say for the better or for the worse, it has just changed. I think that no matter what incarnation Bill's style takes, it still has the same features of dark and light and clever wordplay that give his music its unique feeling.
The one feature that I don't like about this album is the length (only nine tracks). But I guess that's ok considering that the songs are beautiful. I especially like the last track when it picks up the pace toward the end.
If you have liked any of Callahan's other work outside of his early 4 track stuff, you'll like this one. It is pure BC with a little country and gospel mixed in with a big sound that is straight from deep in the heart of Texas!
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