Guitarist Phil Carney has played alongside Mark Kozelek off and on since the latter’s Red House Painters days, so there’s nothing that unusual about Kozelek sitting in with Carney’s band Desertshore for its second album, Drawing Of Threes. Except that Kozelek does more than just sit in; he sings and plays bass on the first six of the album’s 10 tracks. The remaining songs are all instrumentals—just like all the songs on Desertshore’s 2010 debut album, Drifting Your Majesty—but since Carney and his co-founder/pianist Chris Connolly favor dreamy soft-rock, halfway between Windham Hill and sadcore, Desertshore doesn’t sound too different from a typical Red House Painters or Sun Kil Moon album. If anything, what distinguishes this record is that it sounds livelier than anything Kozelek has put his name on in years.
Granted, there’s nothing on Drawing Of Threes as elegantly composed as “Half Moon Bay” or “Tonight In Bilbao” (from Sun Kil Moon’s Admiral Fell Promises and April, respectively). The Kozelek-sung material on Desertshore’s latest is looser and slighter, with repetitious lyrics and simple, swaying patterns. Cases in point: “Turtle Pond,” a slow, gorgeous drifter that evokes the feeling of bobbing in the water and clearing the mind of all thoughts, and “Randy Quaid,” which amiably lists ways to spend an idle day in the San Francisco Bay area. The closest Drawing Of Threes gets to complexity is “Mölle,” which moves from an extended jazzy intro to a hushed-but-insistent body, followed by three brief instrumentals that play like successive codas.
Carney and Connolly are primarily using Kozelek here as another instrument in their concise soundscapes. But for fans of Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon who’ve been frustrated by Kozelek’s recent retreat into one-man-band-ism, it’s a pleasure to hear him working with other musicians again, and with a richer, more expressive sound. Here’s hoping that Kozelek carries that openness with him to his next project—and that he keeps Carney and Connolly on speed-dial.