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on November 5, 2003
With his early '90s band, the Red House Painters, San Francisco's Mark Kozelek struck a chord of disquiet and bohemian poignancy that made that band the darling of the scribbling-poems-to-the-pretty-barista-who-will-never-know-my-name set. With lovely, unadorned melodies and Kozelek's angst-ridden tributes to disillusionment, the Red House Painters influenced a score of later bands who lacked his rich melodic imagination and incisive lyrics -- Low is a good example -- resulting in Kozelek himself being typecast as the maestro of "mopecore." Then he did something unforgivable in the minds of some of his fans: he evolved.
Without rehashing the epic travails and record-biz nightmares that caused RHP's fine album "Old Ramon" to be delayed in release for years after it was finished, the good news is that "Ghosts of the Great Highway" not only continues the evolutionary path Kozelek took on later RHP work like "Songs for a Blue Guitar" and his solo album "Rock and Roll Singer," it's a masterpiece on its own terms, and the most magnificent rock album of 2003.
If you thought they didn't make albums like Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" anymore, cue up "Ghosts of the Great Highway," and marvel over the fact that Kozelek and company are able to cross-pollinate folk, country, punk, and psychedelic influences without sounding the least bit retro, stealing the purifying flame of Crazy Horse meltdowns like "Cortez the Killer" while sounding like no one but themselves. If you're a Nick Drake fan warming your hands over the ashes of "Pink Moon," consider the fact that at least one song on this album, "Duk Koo Kim," is as beautiful and otherwordly as anything in Drake's oeuvre (particularly the acoustic version, released on a limited edition EP last year), and consider the possibility that Kozelek is as unfairly ignored and marginalized in our time as Drake was in his.
"Glenn Tipton," "Duk Koo Kim," "Carry Me Ohio" and "Gentle Moon" are all instant classics, full of heart, understated grace, and authentic yearning, while avoiding the art-school sentimentality of Kozelek's early work. "Duk Koo Kim" is especially worthy of note, reinvented here as a 14-minute folk-punk-psychedelic apocalypse, with backwards guitars, Portuguese guitars, and bells swirling around Kozelek's aching voice. (I can't praise this track enough, other than to say that if I was a very bright teenager with a set of headphones and a bong, I'd probably decide to become a musician after hearing this song alone.) It's one of the most terrifying love songs ever written, as emotionally naked as the songs on Joni Mitchell's "Blue." (Like several of the songs on this album, "Duk Koo Kim" is the tale of a hero who died young -- in this case, a Korean boxer killed in the ring.) The only misstep on the record is Kozelek's formula-grunge treatment of his gorgeous tune "Lily and Parrots," which appeared as a hidden acoustic track on his "White Christmas Live."
At his best, Kozelek writes and sings like an oracle, and plays feedback-drenched electric guitar with as much intensity as his punk and heavy metal heroes while never descending into mere chaos and noise. If you're a music critic or record reviewer (I happen to be an editor of Wired magazine, and have no connection to Kozelek), entertain the notion that instead of hyping the latest skinny-tie buzz band that no one will care about in 3 years, you might consider running a piece on Kozelek and this album. If you're a music fan who enjoys Wilco, Iron and Wine, and other forward-looking traditionally-influenced bands, give this a listen. It's far beyond what almost everyone is doing these days.
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on February 11, 2007
Since this package is a rerelease with bonus material -- and since the original release now appears to be out of print -- I'll reiterate my original review below with a paragraph at the end about the bonus tracks.

Album of the Year, 2003

With his early '90s band, the Red House Painters, San Francisco's Mark Kozelek struck a chord of disquiet and bohemian poignancy that made that band the darling of the scribbling-poems-to-the-pretty-barista-who-will-never-know-my-name set. With lovely, unadorned melodies and Kozelek's angst-ridden tributes to disillusionment, the Red House Painters influenced a score of later bands who lacked his rich melodic imagination and incisive lyrics -- Low is a good example -- resulting in Kozelek himself being typecast as the maestro of "mopecore." Then he did something unforgivable in the minds of some of his fans: he evolved.

Without rehashing the epic travails and record-biz nightmares that caused RHP's fine album "Old Ramon" to be delayed in release for years after it was finished, the good news is that "Ghosts of the Great Highway" not only continues the evolutionary path Kozelek took on later RHP work like "Songs for a Blue Guitar" and his solo album "Rock and Roll Singer," it's a masterpiece on its own terms, and the most magnificent rock album of 2003.

If you thought they didn't make albums like Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" anymore, cue up "Ghosts of the Great Highway," and marvel over the fact that Kozelek and company are able to cross-pollinate folk, country, punk, and psychedelic influences without sounding the least bit retro, stealing the purifying flame of Crazy Horse meltdowns like "Cortez the Killer" while sounding like no one but themselves. If you're a Nick Drake fan warming your hands over the ashes of "Pink Moon," consider the fact that at least one song on this album, "Duk Koo Kim," is as beautiful and otherwordly as anything in Drake's oeuvre (particularly the acoustic version, released on a limited edition EP last year), and consider the possibility that Kozelek is as unfairly ignored and marginalized in our time as Drake was in his.

"Glenn Tipton," "Duk Koo Kim," "Carry Me Ohio" and "Gentle Moon" are all instant classics, full of heart, understated grace, and authentic yearning, while avoiding the art-school sentimentality of Kozelek's early work. "Duk Koo Kim" is especially worthy of note, reinvented here as a 14-minute folk-punk-psychedelic apocalypse, with backwards guitars, Portuguese guitars, and bells swirling around Kozelek's aching voice. (I can't praise this track enough, other than to say that if I was a very bright teenager with a set of headphones and a bong, I'd probably decide to become a musician after hearing this song alone.) It's one of the most terrifying love songs ever written, as emotionally naked as the songs on Joni Mitchell's "Blue." (Like several of the songs on this album, "Duk Koo Kim" is the tale of a hero who died young -- in this case, a Korean boxer killed in the ring.) The only misstep on the record is Kozelek's formula-grunge treatment of his gorgeous tune "Lily and Parrots," which appeared as a hidden acoustic track on his "White Christmas Live."

At his best, Kozelek writes and sings like an oracle, and plays feedback-drenched electric guitar with as much intensity as his punk and heavy metal heroes while never descending into mere chaos and noise. If you're a music critic or record reviewer (I happen to be an editor of Wired magazine, and have no connection to Kozelek), entertain the notion that instead of hyping the latest skinny-tie buzz band that no one will care about in 3 years, you might consider running a piece on Kozelek and this album. If you're a music fan who enjoys Wilco, Iron and Wine, and other forward-looking traditionally-influenced bands, give this a listen. It's far beyond what almost everyone is doing these days.

"Ghosts" disc two, 2007

Hearing these bonus tracks (two brilliant, one fine, and two only mediocre), I suggest that what Kozelek should have done was to release "Ghosts" originally with the instrumental "Arrival" inserted somewhere in the running order, and finishing with either version of "Somewhere." Kozelek's reinvention of West Side Story's yearning love song is profound, heart-wrenching, and gorgeous. (The yearning is even more poignant knowing that the song's composers, Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein, were gay and bisexual respectively, but the feelings expressed are universal.) "Somewhere" would have been an emotionally devastating capper to a magnificent album; at least we have it now. I prefer the slightly punchier second take, which employs the same Portuguese guitar-like instrument as "Duk Koo Kim" on the original album, but the string arrangement on the first version is also lovely. The straightforward folky reading of "Salvador Sanchez" is fine; the other two bonus tracks are merely competent. In my dreams, Kozelek would also have supplemented this bonus disc with the astounding double-tracked acoustic version of "Duk Koo Kim" that appeared only on a vinyl EP -- it's one of the true masterpieces of his career, and is now in danger of being a "lost" track available only to connoisseurs. But enough second-guessing. This is a great album, now made slightly greater.
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on January 3, 2004
Truly brilliant piece of work from M. Kozelek. From the get-go, the beautifully crafted melodies hit you. And of course, his seemingly effortless lyrics can make the most mundane of topics appear uplifting and redeeming. As a member of "gen X", I must say Mark always knows how to drop little tidbits from our youth into his lyrics. Anyone catch the reference to Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, Judas Priest's dueling guitarists, in the opening track?!
His lilting voice during the chorus of "Gentle Moon" makes that little chill go down your spine. And "Duk Koo Kim" is a wonderful meandering epic referring to the Korean boxer (the one whose death made Howard Cosell quit covering boxing), and lost love/life. And yes, I am a sucker for when Mark plugs in the guitars and cranks it up a bit, as he does on "Lily and Parrots".
Along with Manitoba's 'Up In Flames', Pernice Brothers' 'Yours, Mine and Ours' and Sufjan Stevens' 'Greetings From Michigan', this is a MUST-have CD for 2003.
Download all the Britney Spears you want, but support these artists!!
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on December 16, 2005
I don't normally write reviews, but someone below suggested that the rave reviews are only being given by hard core fans of Kozelek or RHP. I had never heard of either before hearing "Carry Me Ohio" one day on XM. It is one of those songs that is so good it is shocking when you first hear it, like The Shins "New Slang" - it grabs you immediatly. I have sampled some of Kozelek's other works here, and doubt I will pick up anything else soon, but I really love this album. There are several songs that I wish would just go on and on. If you have become bored with everybody trying to copy Sufjan Stevens, or you're like me and really don't understand the buzz about the Canadians, pick up this album and try it. Whether you like it or not, there can be no doubt that Kozelek is his own artist.
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on February 9, 2007
To me, this is Mark Kozelek's masterpiece. Ever since I purchased this album in 2004, it's been one of my favorite albums, and I believe now, it is my favorite album. There's a little bit of everything on this album and that's why I like it so much. The guitar-laden "Salvador Sanchez," the driving rhythms of "Lily and Parrots," the nostalgia of "Carry Me Ohio," and the epic "Duk Koo Kim." The only thing holding me back from giving this re-issued album five stars is the bonus disc. I don't think it has much to offer. The versions of Leonard Bernsteins are good, the first version being better than the other, but not really noteworthy. The radio version of "Gentle Moon" and the acoustic version of "Carry Me Ohio" are both off a little bit vocally, and I think the live versions on "Little Drummer Boy" is much better, vocally and musically. The only song I actually really dig on the bonus disk is "Arrival," a two-to-three minute instrumental. But you're the consumer, so buy it and make up your mind as well.
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on October 16, 2004
I was browsing through Amazon's suggested artists when I found Sun Kil Moon. I listened to samples of the cd and bought it on a whim. No regrets - I LOVE it. It's great music when you're in a mellow mood or are kind of down. The lead singer has a great, soothing voice, the band's music is really unique, and the cd just totally rules.
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on April 22, 2004
It is astonishing that after 12 years of recording, Mark still has so much to say, musically and lyrically. This album is obssession-inducing. I sometimes sit and play it straight through 4 or 5 times. The melodies, the harmonies, the emotion have never been stronger. It's hard to think of a single artist who is or was still making music this good over a decade into their career. Listening to this album reminds you of how hopelessly sad and terribly beautiful life is, it is like a potion which strips away our thick skins and makes us almost unbearably sensitive to the pain and joy around us. It's almost a physical sensation, an ache in the stomach, a dizziness in the head, a piece of glass in the heart.
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on November 16, 2005
I came to this album with no knowledge of who Red House Painters or Mark Kozolek were. This is the first material I heard from the group. Since, its become one of my favorite albums of all time.

This is the best album of 2003, hands down. It took me until the end of 2004 to stop listening to it on a weekly basis, and was my favorite album of 2004 as well.
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on September 19, 2007
"Ghosts of the Great Highway" was one of my favorite records to come out in the last decade. This is the expanded rerelease. The first disc is identical. The second one features several rerecordings or solo acoustic versions, and a couple of new songs. The new songs are short but good, in the same hauntingly beautiful vein as the original album. Some of the rerecordings are similar, some are stripped down and sparser than the originals were.

If you don't have this record yet, I cannot recommend getting it enough. It's astounding. I think this record surpasses the Red House Painters material I have heard in depth and maturity.

If you have the record and love it, then you should pick up this version, as it will be a welcome expansion to what you've already got.

If you have the record and you think it's okay--I'm sure you exist, though I've never met anyone who has heard this and doesn't adore it--the bonus disc here is rather short and so it might not be worth it for you.

For everyone else, go get this now.
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on January 4, 2005
This is one of the best albums i have heard in the last couple of years. I bought it in 2004 although it's a 2003 album and i have been completely dazed with the magic that this album has.

Listen to Salvador Sanchez or Gentle Moon and you won't be disappointed.

Kozelek makes music that will survive for ages.
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