Sun Kil Moon

Sun Kil Moon

Ghosts Of The Great Highway


Ghosts of the Great Highway is one of those stay-at-home CDs. You can easily listen to it while puttering around the house or staring far off on a rainy day. However, what appears initially as an album of sad bastard music eventually transfigures itself into a record of reflection and sheer solitude. This album is a well-crafted collection of ten emotionally powerful songs penned by one of music’s hidden gems, Mark Kozelek.

The Red House Painters were a great band. They made six amazing albums with compact, sharp melodies and wonderful, precise lyrics. The Red House Painters touched nerves, struck chords and pulled no punches. Kozelek subsequently emerged as one of contemporary music’s best songwriters.

Kozelek has certainly been busy. He’s made two solo albums and one album of AC/DC covers; he’s also had small acting gigs and scored films. Besides all of that, he’s produced and worked on various tribute albums. Now, with all that work complete, he has emerged from the depths with Sun Kil Moon, teaming up with RHP alum Anthony Koutsos, American Music Club’s Tim Mooney and bassist Geoff Stanfield, formerly of Black Lab.

SKM are a complete band, and they’ve made a solid, nifty record. The album opens with “Glenn Tipton,” a great acoustic track named after the guitarist of Judas Priest. To set the mood, it uses light guitar to frame lyrics about remembering. “Carry Me Ohio” picks things up a bit. Fragile and delicate, it’s a very personal song about looking back. Kozelek is at his brooding best here.

Things get electric with “Salvador Sanchez,” a song about the boxer of the same name. The album’s quiet beginning is temporarily set aside, as murky guitars and percussion accompany gritty lyrics just under the surface sludge. On the quieter side are “Last Tide” and “Gentle Moon,” a lush and sweeping pair of songs about place and perspective. The former features strings that are neither overbearing nor intrusive; the latter is a great, reflective ballad.

Business gets noisy again with “Lily and Parrots.” This ode to Telegraph Hill in San Francisco is one of the standout moments on the record, hearkening to the rougher days of the Red House Painters. The epic “Duk Koo Kim” clocks in at over 14 minutes; its use of mandolin, Spanish/Portuguese guitars and electric noise merge with well-intoned, misanthropic lyrics. The melancholy grows by leaps and bounds here, but it is beauty from chaos. The final track, “Pancho Villa,” acoustically revisits “Salvador Sanchez”; it’s more reserved and completely refreshing. “Pancho Villa” takes the terseness of its predecessor and turns it down a notch, leaving a more sincere and honest shell.

Ghosts of the Great Highway is a reflective album in which Kozelek looks back, both artistically and lyrically. From Kozelek’s teens in Ohio to his adulthood in San Francisco, the album recalls the ghosts he’s met, while the metaphor of a “great highway” symbolizes life, death and where he is presently. This is one of those rare recordings that builds intensity, sonic density and structure, all the while remaining both pleasantly dreary and uplifting at the same time. This is a strong record from one of the best songwriters in contemporary music.

Jetset Records:

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