Bill Callahan isn't Smog any more, although he is much more Smog than Will Oldham is Bonnie Prince Billy. To clarify, there isn't a huge stylistic chasm that separates Callahan's new record, credited to Bill Callahan (formerly Smog), from the many previous Smog records; it is, like the last couple, not quite as good as the best ones, but with the odd really great moment.
What has changed, though, is that he is now Smog in love (with singer Joanna Newsom), evident perhaps in a newfound warmth that rounds the edges of his flint-hard little songs. Accompanied only by a keyboard player and a gifted percussionist, Callahan plays a strange-looking, three-quarter size acoustic guitar. In love or not, he has an austere, wounded charisma that puts one in mind of Montgomery Clift, pursuing a career as a country singer.
This isn't an easy thing to say of an artist whom you have loved to distraction and at whose shows you have, on occasion, bawled uncontrollably. But his performances have become dull and, despite the undoubted abilities of the musicians, the first half of this show drags. Only Diamond Dancer, one of the highlights of the new album, Woke on a Whaleheart, really bites. Luckily, Callahan has a great back catalogue to draw on. Songs such as Rock Bottom Riser and River Guard are powerful epiphanies - minimalist and tough in a way that makes you think of a southern Lou Reed. Yet they remain emotionally expansive. If there is such a thing as a bleak groove, then Cold-Blooded Old Times is it as Callahan asks, "How can I stand and laugh with the man who redefined your body?" But more interesting than the quality of Callahan's previous work will be what he mines from happiness, and quite who he becomes next.
· At Dingwalls, London, tonight. Box office: 0870 771 2000. Then touring.