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Bill Callahan: Apocalypse (Drag City) 

Bill Callahan has always embraced simplicity. While his guitar-playing is average, and his voice rarely ventures beyond a low and comfortable baritone, his mastery over lyrics and delivery results in songs that often say little—but mean a lot.

Apocalypse, while not a huge leap forward musically, contains songs perfectly crafted and steeped in metaphor. Bleak, Western imagery abounds, but under the surface, the listener finds that the songs are really about Callahan himself.

Opening track "Drover" examines the life of a cattle driver who lives away from the "real people," a nice mirror of Callahan's life as an outsider and underground singer-songwriter who "corrals" songs for a living. Album-closer "One Fine Morning" finds the protagonist, or narrator, back on the range during the apocalypse. However, it's made clear through lines like, "My apocalypse," and, "Hey, no more drovering" (which nicely brings the Western/cattle theme full-circle), that this is about personal transformation rather than the world's end days.

Rollicking standout track "America!" showcases Calla-han's knack for combining the hilarious with the macabre. Essentially a love letter to his country, it celebrates country singers who served in the military ("Capt. Kristofferson" and "Sgt. Cash," among others) and then laments U.S. domestic and foreign policies, all over squalling guitars and repetitive drums.

At the end of the last track, Callahan announces the end of the record when he slowly sings "DC 4 5 0." It's the ultimate form of self-referencing (being the album's catalog number), and brings closure to the whole piece.

More by Brian Mock

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