Sun Kil Moon
Ghosts of the Great Highway (Re-Issue)
There’s really no disputing Rob Levy’s fine review of the original release of Ghosts of the Great Highway — which can be viewed here — so I’m not going to waste your time. Following the collapse of Jetset Records and the creation of Mark Kozelek’s own Caldo Verde label, this re-release was seemingly bound to happen. Thankfully, he’s recognized that with such a short interval between the first pressing and this revival, he needed to include some extra material to sweeten the pot.
This bonus comes in the form of a second disc of alternate versions, live takes and covers. Interestingly enough, the original album itself predicted this future treatment with the gritty burn of “Salvador Sanchez” and its alternate arrangement, the somber redemption in “Pancho Villa.” This time around, “Salvador Sanchez” gets an even more stripped-down treatment, creaking slowly along with two acoustic guitar melodies intertwining behind Kozelek’s dual character study. It lacks some of the melancholy that made “Pancho Villa” such a wonderful track, but it’s no less beautiful. The acoustic “Carry Me Ohio” rambles wearily on circular finger-picking and feels very indebted to Kozelek’s idol John Denver. It’s proof that that these songs need only the barest orchestration to flourish. The live solo version of “Gentle Moon” coasting breezily on a single acoustic guitar melody and Kozelek’s vocals is perhaps the best example of this. Of the two turns taken on Leonard Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” the first is the stronger. Echoing like a memory but insistently looking toward the future, the reverb on the guitar coupled with the soaring and diving backward-looped string section has all the dizziness of a dream. The second take is more straight-forward, centered around a warm electric guitar tone, subtle piano accompaniment and rich vocals, it’s gorgeous, but just doesn’t hit the heartstrings as sharply as the initial run. A singular songwriter and performer, regardless of what guise he wears or the level of sonic intensity he reaches, Kozelek’s roots are immovably and reliably firm.
Caldo Verde Records: www.caldoverderecords.com