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Mark Kozelek: Rock 'N' Roll Singer


Mark Kozelek

Album: Rock 'N' Roll Singer
Label: Badman

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More often than not, cover songs fall into one of three categories: placid displays of wax-museum reverence, attempts to make a cover sound like an original, and ironic acts of irreverent deconstruction. Mark Kozelek, singer and leader of the elegantly mopey San Francisco band Red House Painters, has performed a lot of covers in his day, and he possesses an uncanny ability to pull off all three approaches, sometimes simultaneously. On his seven-song solo EP Rock 'N' Roll Singer—his band has spent the past year or two trying to extract itself from merger-related label hassles—Kozelek showcases his ability to write gorgeously understated, achingly sincere ballads ("Ruth Marie," "Find Me, Ruben Olivares") and place them seamlessly amid no fewer than three AC/DC covers. Of the three, the title track sounds the most like a Red House Painters song, while the lyric to "Bad Boy Boogie" has the hardest time fitting within the confines of Kozelek's stately arrangements. But "You Ain't Got A Hold On Me" provides the EP's most welcome revelation in the form of a knockout falsetto that proves Kozelek's considerable vocal versatility. AC/DC isn't his only inspiration these days: He also shows a penchant for John Denver songs, as evidenced by the inclusion of "Around And Around" on both Rock 'N' Roll Singer and Take Me Home, a Denver tribute he recently compiled. Unfortunately, the latter is far less than the sum of its parts, despite some strong moments. Any album containing the works of Kozelek, Tarnation, Red House Painters, Low, Mojave 3's Rachel Goswell (whose vocal is pasted over Kozelek's cover of "Around And Around"), and Will Oldham has to at least be worth hearing. But its pleasures are mostly marginal and incidental: Performances by Sunshine Club and James Hindle are as gently soothing as the songs they cover ("Annie's Song" and "Whispering Jesse," respectively) but far from transcendent, while the estimable Tarnation (with Joe Gore) renders "Leaving On A Jet Plane" awkwardly unsettled, and not in a good way. Of Red House Painters' two entries, "I'm Sorry" is a solid album-closer, but "Fly Away" is an instrumental that never gels. At its best—Oldham as "Bonnie Prince Billy" doing "The Eagle And The Hawk," The Innocence Mission's "Follow Me"—it's just pretty and pleasant, adjectives Kozelek and company usually transcend.