Mark Kozelek – Lost Verses Live

Mark Kozelek – Lost Verses Live

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Mark Kozelek was one of the more prolific songwriters of the ’90s, releasing six albums in seven years with his former band, the Red House Painters. Those whirlwind days have long passed though; his release schedule these days seem to have slowed to a formulaic crawl. Observe his madness: Step One) Release album comprised entirely of original material that usually gets lauded as his masterwork; Step Two) Release live album from resulting tour, comprised mainly of songs from said record; Step Three) Release cover album to keep the fan base interested and his name in the press. Sure, it’s not an exact science – witness last fall’s patchwork The Finally LP – but that’s basically the gist of Kozelek’s creative cycle since the Red House Painters name was retired.

Lost Verses Live is the second part in the cycle. It’s the sequel to 2006’s Little Drummer Boy Live in the sense that whereas that album presented us with live versions of 2003’s Ghosts of the Great Highway, this puppy is the counterpart to last year’s decidedly downcast but achingly beautiful April. However, there’s a bit of a difference; Little Drummer Boy had a great bulk of electric guitar songs, certain numbers even rocked up from the album versions. Lost Verses Live is a decidedly stripped down affair, featuring just Kozelek’s soulful baritone, his acoustic guitar, and the occasional second guitar. Furthermore, whereas Little Drummer Boy was a scattershot collection of performances from different years and different moods, Lost Verses would convince people that it was all one show, if they didn’t read the album credits. The songs and stage banter are expertly edited together, maintaining an ambient tone throughout the body of the performances. These are not rowdy rock shows; the man played museums on his last tour if that’s any indication. In a sense, Kozelek feels like an exhibit here, a man baring his pain being solemnly observed. Shows with Sun Kil Moon and that group’s deafening, hypnotic wall are quite different in feel. Think solo Neil Young versus his Crazy Horse material.

The important part, however, is the performances and those are routinely good. Fans of “Unlit Hallway,” “Lost Verses,” and “Moorestown” may miss the full band dynamics of the album versions (“Lost Verses,” in particular, feels incomplete without its soaring guitar finale), but these stripped down versions manage to be wildly successful on their own terms, showcasing the fragile emotion at the center of those storms. Paling in comparison to their April counterparts, though certainly richly emotional performances, are “Heron Blue” and “Harper Road,” the former missing its oppressive drone and creepy classical flourishes while the latter comes off flat with Kozelek’s beautiful falsetto. In full, eight of April’s eleven tracks are reproduced here. Interestingly enough, the remaining three songs are featured in stripped down versions on April’s bonus disc in its initial pressings. Combining these tracks would provide fans with a full acoustic version of the album.

Elsewhere, “Carry Me Ohio,” “Salvador Sanchez,” “Four Fingered Fisherman,” and “Tiny Cities” are all that’s culled from prior Sun Kil Moon projects. In an odd way, the Modest Mouse covers serve as a relieving intrusion; Isaac Brook’s quirkier images break up all the heartbreak, death, and loss. The album’s only major misstep is an ill-advised cover of “Send In the Clowns,” one of the more irredeemably depressing songs ever written. Sure, Kozelek’s songs are sad, but I’d classify them as depressed (i.e. thoughtfully sad and usually cathartic) as opposed to depressing (something that deliberately goes out of its way to ruin your day). Wrapping things up is the sole Red House Painter’s track, 1993’s “Katy Song”, a love song that’s all about the intensity of young love (“without you, what does my life amount to?”) before time makes us self-conscious and jaded.

Indeed, the whole thing is quite romantic; a tribute to a girl with radiant August eyes that the singer slept with so many nights who reminds him of listening to “Lucky Man” during one youthful summer and a love that feels still alive out there somewhere, inhabiting places like Moorestown and Harper Road where the past still somehow exists, if only as an echo. Anyone with a penchant for the romantic and the bittersweet is bound to find a favorite; mine would be the lengthy “Tonight In Bilbao” that describes a lonely trek through Europe that results in a fateful meeting between lovers. Before Sunrise anyone?


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