Mark Kozelek - Sings Favorites - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mark Kozelek - Sings Favorites

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2016-05-27

Covers albums always struck me as the dreaded contractual obligation album – you know, those nightmares artists record to get the label off their back and fulfill their contract. Typically too pissed off to be arsed to write one more album, they turn to some moldie oldies they listened to as kids and turn in their very own Holiday Inn-styled lounge record. While the title of Mark Kozelek’s latest gives the story away immediately, I’m giving him some slack before I even plop the CD into the player for several reasons. First off, I think he runs the label, so the contractual obligation scam is off the table. But more importantly, this is not the first time Mark’s given his brain a rest and relied on other songwriters to write his album for him. Fifteen years ago he confused everyone (an I-don’t-give-a-fuck trend that’s continued pretty much unabated ever since) by recording an entire album of AC/DC covers for his debut solo release. A few years later, Sun Kil Moon’s second release consisted entirely of Modest Mouse covers. And when he first started out fronting Red House Painters, he recorded some of my favourite cover versions of all time – songs by everyone from Paul McCartney and Paul Simon to The Cars, Yes, and Kiss. Hell, he even curated a tribute album to John Denver and covered “The Star Spangled Banner”. So this is one fucked-up dude when it comes to deciding what songs to include on his albums.

     This time around he traipses through songs written or made famous by Stephen Soundheim, The Wizard Of Oz, Henry Mancini, Frank & Nancy Sinatra, 10cc, Roy Harper, and the omnipresent Christmas tune. There’s even an obscurity (‘Win’) by one David Robert Jones that is certainly a double-edged tribute both to the songwriter and Mr. Bowie, the late performer. For starters, ‘Send in the Clowns’ is given a reverential reading, accompanied only by the stunning, emotional piano of Desertshore pianist Chris Connolly. ‘Moon River’ is just as sedate, although it’s perhaps a tad out of Mark’s vocal range (he doesn’t so much sing it as recite it) and sounds like he’s quite bored and is simply reading the lyrics to kill time after the operator put him on hold.

     Graham Gouldman is one of the most underrated songwriters or one of the most famous songwriters no one knows about. But everyone has his songs in their record collection, either The Yardbirds ‘Heart Full of Soul’ and ‘For Your Love’, The Hollies’ ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘Look Through Any Window’, ‘Listen People’ and ‘No Milk Todfay’ by Herman’s Hermits; he even produced one of my favourite Ramones albums (Pleasant Dreams). But some of his biggest sellers were written as a member of 10cc, and one of their signature songs, ‘I’m Not In Love’ is lovingly rendered with angelic assistance from Rachel Goswell (Slowdive, Mojave 3), who also backed Kozelek on his contribution to the aforementioned John Denver tribute. Here, she makes us all forget about the original “Big boys don’t cry” that had us all creaming our jeans 40+ years ago, although Faith No More singer Mike Patton’s harmonies set us in an equally special place.

     The Bowie track was one I always skipped over whenever I dug out Young Americans, and Mark doesn’t make it any more memorable – a strange choice of covers, but that’s Mark: unexpect the expected. Bob Seger’s ‘Mainsteet’ is much better, as Kozelek effectively captures Seger’s pitiful, romantic stalker ogling go go dancers from afar reminiscence. He may sound a lot like Neil Young here (surprised ol’ Neil is missing from the set, actually), but the emotional performance dispels wandering attention spans and clock watching. I also liked that he didn’t do anything to Roy Harper’s arrangement of ‘Another Day’, one of Harper’s finest performances and some of the best lyrics to ever effectively capture ennui and loneliness. Mark’s sleepy drawl (not unlike Bill “Smog” Callahan) works extremely well here, although a pattern is emerging by now that suggests he may have been half asleep when he recorded most of these tunes. As such, don’t expect rousing rhetoric from the guy who once wrote a song called ‘War On Drugs: Suck My Cock’. This is more suited to fans of Mark’s earlier bedsitter diary entries set to music that populated the early Red House Painters classics. You know – late night, light-a-spliff-and-sit-back-and-stare-at-the-clouds-roll-across-the-moon tunes.

     Bob McDill’s ‘Amanda’ suggests country music is not in Mark’s future – it’s a little toooo sedate, and is noteworthy only for Mimi Parker (Low)’s ethereal, operatic backing. I will defend his Trad. Arr. run through ‘Get Along Home Cindy’. Eighty-year old recordings by Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson’s duet in Rio Bravo may be the more memorable strolls down this road, but Mark makes it sound like one of his own songs, so I can see the attraction.

     Christmas songs have long been a part of Mark’s repertoire, so ‘Oh Holy Night’ is a welcome addition to the canon, seeing as he omitted it from his Christmas album two years ago. And who can argue with Parker’s angelic harmonies. Step aside Alan Sparhawk, and let’s hear a Kozelek/Parker album. Hell, he’s collaborated with just about everyone else over the past decade. Speaking of, ‘Something Stupid’ is just corny enough to work, particularly with Minnie Driver sharing the mic.

     So this is not something I’ll dig out every time I want to spend an evening with Mark Kozelek, but it’s something that’s gonna relax me and put a smile on my face every time I do.

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