Review Summary: Another well considered live album from Mark Kozelek
It’s remarkable to consider that since reinventing himself under the Sun Kil Moon moniker on his own label in 2003, Mark Kozelek has released no less than 9 albums (including reissues). Even considering the economic imperatives for doing so, his output over that time has been consistently good. Live albums are not new to Kozelek fans. To date there has been White Christmas Live, Little Drummer Boy, Nights LP and last year’s 7 Songs in Belfast. Given the saturation, one may reasonably question whether this album is necessary. As is the case with all his work, judgment is best reserved after some amount of absorption and careful consideration.
Lost Verses – Live is culled from a number of shows played in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and San Francisco in support of last year’s April, which many consider to be the most complete record of his career. In many ways, this is the encore to April, which accounts for 8 of the 14 songs here.
For me, April marked new territory for Kozelek that was hinted in Ghost of the Great Highway. At its core,April was really a beautiful eulogy to a loved one. What is remarkable about those songs is Kozelek’s growth as a songwriter. April distilled a man with a sense of acceptance for the predicament that he finds himself in. And really, this is the difference between Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. He is no longer trying to fight the pervading sadness - or wallow in it - but rather he celebrates it a refined sense of grace and dignity.
Take, for example, the first few lines from opener Unlit Hallway:
Walking down the unlit
Hallway of life there’s hope I know
There’s angel she follows me
Follows me close she touches my shoulder
And on the majestic Blue Orchids:
A fallen star on long lost highway
My fallen sister died so young
All the gifts you gave I have them
All your love I’m still holding onto
Hearing him sing these songs live, you cannot help but share the cathartic experience. All of the songs on April are well treated and meditative. In particular, a reworked version of Heron Blue peels further emotional layers from the original recording. However, ‘Lost Verses’ never reaches the lofty heights of the album version without the backing vocals and strummed guitars. Elsewhere, there is a cover of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ and Modest Mouse’s ‘Four Fingered Fisherman’. Long-time fan favourites ‘Moorestown’ and ‘Salvador Sanchez’ make compelling listening back to back. ‘Katy Song’ ends the album almost too abruptly, but the tenderness of its delivery marks the album’s highlight. After all these years, it still conveys and emotional depth and clarity that is immediately striking.
Sonically, the album provides no significant departure from previous efforts, with Kozelek’s vocals hovering over lightly finger-picked acoustic guitars. His tenor is much freer here, lacking much of the reverb on previous outings. The addition of some playful banter only confirms his sense of ease with himself and the music. Making the crowd laugh as he does on numerous occasions here would have been unthought of at past Red House Painters concerts. At one point he asks the audience ‘do you guys appreciate me?’
Yes, Mark – we do.
These recordings exist because Kozelek needs these songs, as much as we need his words. Except the omission of Duk Koo Kim, this album gives a fine picture of Kozelek as a performer. While not an essential album, it certainly is a necessary one.