& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & 've always had a soft spot for Mary-Chapin Carpenter, perhaps because she and I are nearly the same age -- as she observes the world and turns her reflections into songs, those songs resonate with where I am in my life. "It Must Have Happened" captures the wonder of waking up in middle age to realize that the life you've got is the life you're going to have, for better or worse -- but mostly for better. Of course, she's also a wry social commentator, and that comes through on "Houston," about a life uprooted by Hurricane Katrina, and "On With the Song," written for the Dixie Chicks. Musically speaking, she breaks no new territory here, alternating between aching ballads and straight-ahead country-tinged rockers. But as usual, her lyrics deliver exquisite portraits of contemporary American life, and her honeyed contralto is like your most comfortable pair of worn jeans.
--ANN M. COLFORD
DOWNLOAD: "Leaving Song"
Woke on a Whaleheart
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & hile the name Bill Callahan probably doesn't ring a bell to even the most seasoned indie aficionado, the "band" Smog should. Like John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats, or Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, Smog is (or more correctly was) the name Callahan used to record as early as the late '80s.
It's not clear judging by this record why Callahan chose to retire the name Smog in favor of his own, because Woke on a Whaleheart is not a major departure from recent Smog contributions. Callahan's distinctive baritone voice, coupled with his signature deadpan vocal delivery, remains highly intact. And the style of songwriting continues to be reflective, wry and intimate.
Standout tracks include the exquisite "Sycamore" as well as the folksy, gospel-tinged "The Wheel." Callahan always presents decent output, but as with most Smog records, this is hardly anything to get excited about.