A billion albums into his career and one knows what to expect from Smog. It's country, alt-country, urbane folk, whatever you want to call it. Largely it's usually great, but after the slight disappointment of previous LP 'Supper_', it's nice to hear that whilst doing the same thing as ever, this is in the highest bracket of that field's work.
'A River Ain't Much Too Love' is yet another collection of sombre-to-wistful vignettes, this time though, there's chinks of lights streaming through the songs. By no means a party record, it's at least midly infused with the summer. Bottles of gin in the park summer, but good weather nontheless.
'The Well' is positively jaunty with* Bill Callahan* offering the refrain "I watched that drip but it would not drop" in the midst of a down-home story about, well, a well. In fact, it's so (relatively) upbeat that Smog let's off a couple of "hoooos" as the temple reaches a previously-unheard of mid-tempo. 'Rock Bottom Riser' has a beautiful feel, with Callahan crooning of his adventures "diving, diving... diving", all lullaby-led piano chords and sparse brush work. 'I Feel Like The Mother Of The World' is full of rusty ringing strings and wonderous notions of "when I was young I got into the bath with my sister" and has more life in it than many whole Smog albums previous. Fans of the shuffling, gossamer 'barely-there' Callahan will be well catered for with 'In The Pines' and 'Drinking In The Dam', a song which is filled with beautiful ghostly sighs, building to the sort of full-bodied tunes that so rarely get an look-in on Smog's LPs. Pleasantly, 'A River...' is all the better for it.
It's never too late to introduce the joys of Smog to the world at large - there's no real start and end to his body of work bar the banalities of chronology - and with 'River Ain't Too Much Love', he's reached another career peak to match that of 1999's 'Knock Knock'.
8Gareth Dobson's Score