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Smog

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.

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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.

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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.

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