A River Ain't Too Much To Love

In most every old Western movie, there's the town undertaker. Then, outside the undertaker's shop, there's usually a quiet, gaunt fella who doesn't do much but sit on a bench, whittle and make the rare perfunctory comment whenever he feels it necessary. Sometimes listening to Bill Callahan (aka Smog) can be like listening to that fella.

Recorded at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studios, there's an appropriate restless cowboy vibe running through Smog's 12th album A River Ain't Too Much To Love. The session band (Dirty Three drummer Jim White, bassist Connie Lovatt and guests like Joanna Newsom and fiddler Travis Weller) creates a subtle, living room atmosphere with enough wide open space for Callahan's slow-drip vocals to emanate at will.

Lines like "My skin turns brown/You wouldn't know me from your pa/Or Adam or All-ah," (from "Running the Loping") or "Met a woman in a bar/Told her I was hard to get to know/And near impossible to forget" (from "I'm New Here") perk up the ears to Smog's unpredictable way with words — a gift that seldom escalates when extended past the five-minute mark. More often than not, though, River's well-deep pontificating and gently pitched gallows humor go down smooth and unhurried, adding some Texas-themed warmth to Callahan's often icy discography.

Smog plays the Earl Thurs., Aug. 18. $10. 9 p.m. 488 Flat Shoals Ave. 404-522-3950. www.badearl.com.