Lonesome cowboy Bill Callahan has a voice like phlegm. Not the thick yellowish substance secreted by the walls of the respiratory tract, that is, but phlegm as in the quality of calm, in usually adverse situations. So here’s his adulterer’s confessional, sung without a hint of self-justification or penitence beyond acknowledgment of the act itself.
“I have taken you for a ride”, says Bill, wringing as much suggestion from the phrase as a man lying on the floor reasonably can. “Left you waiting in the car while I played death games inside”.
With its Radio 2 crossover potential, the hilariously saucy ‘Dress Sexy At My Funeral’ would have made a more obvious single from the sterling ‘Dongs Of Sevotion’, but ‘Strayed’ is a fair precis of Smog life in the naughty noughties: shit doesn’t just happen, it takes people to do it to each other. What distinguishes Callahan‘s stance is his entrenched moral ambiguity, and a vocal technique that has grown far beyond any suggestion of parody into the pantheon of true contemporary American greats. “Well I never thought I’d be one of those men with pin-ups on their walls for all to see/I thought that just was… mechanics”, he coughs, like Kris Kristofferson locked in a coal bunker. With the Smog band kicking back like the country-wise VU ’69 porchlight experience and Southern cats hurling themselves from white-hot rooftops, this is six minutes of love gone wrong: ecstatic, erratic and yes, inevitably phlegmatic.