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Sun Kil Moon visits old ghosts on new album.

Quiet Moon

Mark Kozelek aches for the past on 'Ghosts of the Great Highway'

By Sarah Quelland

SAN FRANCISCO-BASED singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek has taken a somewhat unorthodox approach to his music over the years, following his insistent muse wherever it leads. He first made a name for himself with Red House Painters and its slow, dreary brand of arty melancholia. After his first gentle foray into solo recording, Red House Painters' Songs for a Blue Guitar (Supreme Recordings/Island Records), Kozelek released the random Rock n' Roll Singer EP (a collection of John Denver and AC/DC covers and a few original songs) on Badman Recording Co. under his own name in 2000. He followed up with the full-length What's Next to the Moon (Badman), an all-acoustic reinterpretation of Bon Scott-era AC/DC songs. A sampling of Kozelek's other credits include producing Take Me Home: A Tribute to John Denver (Badman), scoring Peter Callahan's independent film Last Ball and appearing in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous as the bass player in the fictitious Stillwater.

Kozelek's latest project is Sun Kil Moon, a pseudoband that includes Red House Painters drummer Anthony Koutsos, drummer Tim Mooney (American Music Club) and bassist Geoff Stanfield (Black Lab). Under that moniker, Kozelek recently released Ghosts of the Great Highway (Jetset Records), which blends acoustic folk and classic '70s-era rock into a warm, dusty sound with impressionistic vocals that convey more feeling than meaning. As the Americana title and sepia-washed cover suggest, Ghosts is a nostalgic study of bittersweet memories steeped with recollections of days gone by.

The album opens with "Glenn Tipton," a reflection on people's preferences between Judas Priest guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton and musical entertainers Jim Nabors and Bobby Vinton. The song quickly turns personal, though, as Kozelek recognizes similarities between himself and his father ("I put my feet up on the coffee table / I stay up late watching cable / I like old movies with Clark Gable, just like my dad"). Moments later, he's lamenting the death of a woman who ran a donut shop he frequented ("The place ain't the same no more / Not without my friend"). There are many complexities to Kozelek's narrative, and his songs can mean many different things all at once.

He also mingles his songs together. The sorrowful "Last Tide" flows so swiftly into "Floating," it's easy to miss the transition. Meanwhile, "Floating" foreshadows "Duk Koo Kim," with the lyrics "Come to me, my love," a request revisited on "Duk Koo Kim," a 14 1/2-minute epic that's more about Kozelek's realization that death comes unexpectedly than about the South Korean boxer who went into a coma after a 1982 match and died within a week.

Kozelek refers to several famous boxers throughout his lyrics and commemorates both the lives of the Mexican boxing champion Salvador Sanchez, who died in an automobile accident in 1982, in the dramatic psychedelic journey "Salvador Sanchez" and the Filipino boxer Pancho Villa, who died from an infection following dental surgery, in "Pancho Villa"--which, in a perfect example of Kozelek's disregard for convention, is an alternate acoustic version of "Salvador Sanchez." The lonely "Carry Me Ohio," the lovely "Gentle Moon," the anxious "Lily and Parrots" and the lively instrumental "Si Paloma" round out the expressive album.

Kozelek plays the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on Jan. 22. Visit www.musichallsf.com for details.

HOT TOPIC: Johnny V's hosts the next Pac Session this Saturday (Jan. 10). This time around, the Pacific Art Collective presents live music by Esoteric, Bigfoot in Paris, Route 111 and Cory Dale; spoken-word by Angie; comedy by God N Tha Flesh; live painting by Sid L. Veloria and Joe Demaree; and DJs MRKII and Aaron Jae. Visit www.pacsession.com for more info.

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From the January 8-14, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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