At this point, it might be all too predictable to say that Bill Callahan sounds more natural and at ease with each (Smog) album he releases, but it nevertheless holds true for Supper, his 11th full-length (and his second with the Smog name protected by parentheses). Where Dongs of Sevotion and Rain on Lens switched between intimacy and distance like a game of cat-and-mouse, on this album Callahan is strikingly direct from the beginning, generating an emotional and musical heat that hasn't been heard in his music since Knock Knock. Supper begins with "Feather by Feather," which recounts a tale of moving on from a wild past with typically clever lyrics ("When they make the movie of your life/They're going to have to ask you to do your own stunts") and a gorgeous arrangement featuring steel guitars and Sarabeth Tucek's honeyed backing vocals. The song reflects the unabashedly pretty, vulnerable tone that marks most of the album's best moments, such as the philosophical, countrified "Vessel in Vain," on which Callahan notes, "my ideals have got me on the run"; "Truth Serum," a wryly romantic duet with Tucek; and the outstanding "Our Anniversary," which celebrates staying close to someone instead of running away from them. Supper also has its fair share of tough, strutting rockers, both for better (the witty, sexy "Morality") and for worse (the dour "Ambition"). While Callahan's glimpses into the darker side of human nature have traditionally been among his finer moments, on this album they sound tired, even if they serve as a counterpoint to the rest of Supper's gentle, easy grace. But even within the album's warm, natural feel, Callahan offers a few unique twists and turns, such as the impressionistic "Driving," which with its hushed vocals, syncopated drums and banjos, and fireworks(!), conjures the feeling of sitting in a car during a rainstorm. Musically speaking, Supper's most exciting track is "Butterflies Drowned in Wine," which moves from a menacing, bluesy opening to Velvets-inspired rock to a bittersweet, pedal steel-driven chorus. It teeters on the edge of chaos, but that just infuses the song with more drama and proves that Callahan still has the ability to surprise. His last two albums also reflected his ongoing growth as an artist, but Supper's settled but intriguing warmth is an even bigger step forward.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares