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4.7 out of 5 stars
Ghosts Of The Great Highway
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Ghosts Of The Great Highway is a wondrous creation. A work of great depth, texture and perception, it is, without doubt, a masterpiece. I've been listening to it almost constantly now for about 3 weeks and not only do I never tire of hearing it, I simply cannot find a thing about it that I don't like. From the cover art to the singers voice to the songs (10 of them, some long, some short, mostly acoustic, sometimes electric, engaging, compelling and enthralling), it's all good.

Great album's come about in all sorts of different ways of course and one type of which I'm particularly fond is when it's one person's vision, they allow us to visit with them for the duration of the album, get inside their mind for a while if you like. We've had two great examples of that type in 2013 already, from Jim James and Nick Cave. This one, from 2003, was the brainchild of Mark Kozelek who is, for all intents and purposes, Sun Kil Moon.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Born in Ohio in 1967, Mark Kozelek had moved to San Francisco by the late 80s where he formed the band Red House Painters. A demo tape found its way to England's 4AD Records and in 1992 they released the band's debut album Down Colorful Hill, it was an instant classic which received great acclaim and has become a very influential release. Some fantastic work followed another four albums in fact, before record company problems forced a delay in the release of their final album Old Ramon. There was a five year gap between albums and it didn't emerge until 2001 by which time the band had split and Kozelek had embarked on a solo career with first an EP then the album What's Next To The Moon, a release composed entirely of AC/DC cover versions done acoustically and like you've never heard them before, quite wonderful. After this he decided to get another band together and thus was born Sun Kil Moon, named after a Korean boxer, a sport which Kozelek loves and which has influenced many of his songs over the years. Their debut album, in November 2003, was Ghosts Of The Great Highway.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Overall, it's poignant, heartfelt and laced all the way through with bittersweet sadness and regret, it has that kind feel to it. The first track embodies all this and more and begins with Kozelek telling us about a few people that he likes, among them Glenn Tipton (after whom the track is named) and K.K. Downing who were both guitarists with the rock band Judas Priest. It then slides into reminiscing about sitting up late at night with his father, watching old movies on TV, and a friend that he misses:

"I knew an old woman who ran a donut shop / she worked late serving cops / but then one morning baby her heart stopped /place ain't the same no more..............not without my friend "

It's the kind of little thing he can pull from seemingly nowhere and make it seem like these snapshots are momentous moments in life.

Finally we have a verse which appears to be about his first love and how it went wrong due to jealousy, betrayal and lack of trust. Maybe. The line "I buried my first victim when I was 19" can, of course, be taken literally or metaphorically, the choice is ours.

It ends abruptly and after a brief drum roll we're off into the majestic "Carry Me, Ohio" possibly the best song, amid some very stiff competition, on the album. It's a complex song but if I had to sum it up in one word it would be: yearning.

The question is though, what exactly is he yearning for? As per usual, Mark leaves things open to interpretation, he never makes things too easy for the listener, a canny trick: it keeps you interested and coming back for more. So, on this one we're never sure if he's pining for that lost love again or his home, the home that could never sustain him and which he had to leave to fulfill his ambitions and destiny. To put it bluntly: Ohio, a girl or the state?

There's more, so much more.

"Salvador Sanchez" sees the first real impact of electric guitar, it kicks in just when it's needed (the full album is sequenced with care, you can tell), a grungy/Crazy Horse lope which grinds and groans to great effect. The song itself is a eulogy for boxing heroes who died before their time, young warriors in the prime of life. Kozelek obviously has great admiration and writes a beautiful tribute here. Ultimately though it's about more, the entire human experience and the trials, triumphs, heartaches etc we all must go through to get where we want to be.

"Last Tide" and "Floating" are two separate tracks but blend seamlessly together. Here we're in Nick Drake territory, back to acoustic guitar and lovelorn strings in the background. They also appear to be linked in subject matter with "Last Tide" lamenting " I never showed you if I loved you enough" and "Floating" continuing on with "Come to me my love, one more night..........cos I just wanna hold you close, again". Two gentle tunes, carrying real emotional power, quietly devastating.

The mood carries on with the light and airy feel which ushers in "Gentle Moon" which appears to be about finding hope and salvation in nature and, well, just the beautiful things all around us including life itself and the fact that we're here to enjoy it. Even if times seem bad, if you hold on things will get better. "Gentle moon......find us soon." Kozelek has stated that he wrote this song in the days following 9/11.

"Lily And Parrots" finds him back in electric mode, it chugs along grittily as he delivers a quite perfect little love song . There's an acoustic version which has been released elsewhere, you'd think it would fit on this album perfectly, but I actually think this take works better in this context, it gives a bit of variety to proceedings. A sweet song in any guise though.

The 14 and a half minute long "Duk Koo Kim" can seem a little daunting at first, even I admit, but there's a real pay-off at the end as the songs final section evolves it a wondrous, psychedelic/acoustic reverie, a delightful surprise and some of the most beautiful music on the album.

Near the end now, "Si Paloma" a soothing instrumental with flamenco overtones followed by "Pancho Villa" , a final acoustic gem which seemed very familiar to me for a while , until eventually I realized that it's actually a different version of the earlier "Salvador Sanchez" with the same lyrics but a different title . It's very nice to compare the two, and very hard to say which one I prefer, maybe this one but as noted earlier, the "electric" version kicks in at just the right moment, if you're listening to the full album in sequence, which is obviously the intention.

It makes for a stunning finale though, the section where the strings come sweeping in then give way to Kozelek's emotive guitar playing is just transcendent.

And there we have it, a real peach of an album which has taken me by surprise and held me enthralled for much of the past while.

I'm struggling to come up with words which can accurately describe just how good this album is but here's one for you : sublime. According to my dictionary it means: of such excellence, grandeur or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.

For me that sums it up perfectly. Mark Kozelek really pulled out all his tricks for this one, an album of infinite charm which will be his greatest achievement , the man simply won't better this.

Very few could.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2004
In this album Mark Kozelek has made the record he's been threatening to for the last 12 years. It's a beautiful, melodic, and lyrically mature work and has the consistency throughout that so often eluded Red House Painters. Which is not to say that they weren't transcendent at times, but "Ghosts..." never lets up; the folky strum of Glenn Tipton, the thrilling fuzz-guitar of Salvador Sanchez, the gorgeous chiming arpeggios of Gentle Moon: These are some of the best songs Kozelek has ever written, arranged perfectly and performed with enormous zeal by his "new" band. Even the epic Duk Koo Kim holds the attention over its 14 minutes, and when the album closes with Pancho Villa's acoustic guitars and strings it begs to be replayed. Former RHP fans should buy with confidence and anyone else who wants to hear a master songwriter at the top of his game should do so too.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2003
I was never a fan of Red House Painters, Kozelek's first band. This, however, is easily among my top 3 albums of this year. The music: Neil Young meets Ryan Adams, if you can imagine such a thing. Beautiful simple melodies, well crafted songs, rock, roll and something extra - a wonderfully bewitching feel. I don't know anyone who has this record that hasn't just kept hitting Play when the album finishes. I don't know anyone who came to this record with high expectations, but every single person has gone away a big fan... Got Rust Never Sleeps? You need this.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 2003
Mark Kozelek's work in the Red House Painters was good, but this is a completely different level. From 'Glenn Tipton', a beautiful and slowly strummed song about love with one hell of a twist at the end right through to the divine fourteen minute 'Duk Koo Kim' (a tribute to the Korean boxer who was killed in the ring) butressed by layers of gently lapping guitars and leaves you feeling that the song was still too short; the Neil Young fuzz-guitar workout of 'Salvador Sanchez' or the Crazy Horse-inspired 'Lily And Parrots', this is a huge leap in quality from Kozelek and band, and demands to be heard. 'Gentle Moon' and 'Carry Me Ohio' are pretty much "alternative country" could ever reasonably aspire to, both being the kind of songs other people would sell their relatives to be able to write.
I play this album every day, having bought it a month ago, and there's still so much in it I haven't discovered yet. If that's not a recommendation then I may as well give up now, but anybody with an interest in this genre we've come to know as "alt-country" needs to own this album to see how much power and majesty the music can carry when it's done so damn well.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 26 December 2009
It is the writer's view that this is the best thing that Mark Kozelek has done to date. 'Glenn Tipton' seems like an innocent enough Neil Young-esque porch song, until you realise that he may be seeing things through the eyes of a serial killer lamenting the fates of his victims (or just wallowing in self pity, it's curiously ambiguous). The track also wryly refers to Kozelek's teenage love of metal bands like Judas Priest. Kozelek's never shy about referencing the 'uncool' suburban music of his teenage years (The Cars, AC/DC, John Denver, Wings & Kiss for example), coming up with a heartfelt interpretation that is refreshing and all his own. There's some contemporary myth making going down in the two songs about dead boxers ('Salvador Sanchez' & 'Duk Koo Kim'); the former a robust rockout, reprised in a more elegiac acoustic form at the album's close; the latter a transcendent, dreamy epic which perhaps betrays Kozelek's love of Yes in harmonies & vocals redolent of Jon Anderson, accompanied by soporofic mandolin strumming. It's probably the pinnacle of the Koz's uncanny and heart-stopping ability to capture the fragility & ephemerality of life. Additional textures of romanticism are added to the overriding vibe of melancholy with addition of strings & flamenco guitars, possibly influenced by Kozelek's travels in Mexico. Without a doubt one of the best (and overlooked) releases of the noughties, the three Sun Kil Moon albums which have followed to date haven't quite covered the same broad palette as this baby.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2006
'Classic Americana' is the title for my review because this CD deserves a far wider audience than RHP fans, like myself, who will be keen to see what Kozelek does next.

There is a warmth and sense of joy emanating from every track on the CD which marks it out from the melancholy of RHP. Any Neil Young impersonator-criticisms are lazy; the only true comparison is that both artists are capable of writing with such a broad brush. I believe that these comments only appeared because of one vocal inflection on the opening track which does remind the listener of Young; a whole album of great songwriting should not be dismissed so easily.

On to the music: Kozelek delivers his familiar mix of beautiful acoustic work. e.g. 'Glenn Tipton', which seemingly appears to be a cosy homespun tale similar to 'Have You Forgotten' from the under-rated RHP 'Blue Guitar' CD until one is brought up short by the line 'I buried my first victim when I was 19' and confident riffing on 'Salvador Sanchez' and 'Lily and Parrots'.

I believe the soothing, melodic 'Gentle Moon' to be his best ever song, listen to it on the way to work and you will be in a good mood all day not matter what s**t you have to face in the office.

The first seven tracks on the CD leave you reeling with their strength of melody, superb genuine-band feel and sense of joy in music, but at the end of the record some familiar Kozelek indulgences appear. 'Duk Koo Kim' is the obligatory over-long epic (14 mins+) but to be fair it is the best of the long tracks Kozelek has written. It is also the most RHP-sounding song on the CD.

'Si Paloma' is the inconsequential instrumental and 'Pancho Villa' is an acoustic re-working of 'Salvador Sanchez' ('New Jersey' and 'Mistress', anyone?). Mark, please pick one version for the CD and save the other for a B-side.

I forgive Kozelek for these sins though, as it is part of his artistic vision and he remains one of my favourite songwriters.

A great CD which all RHP fans and those who love Americana should own.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 23 June 2004
I am a relatively new listener to the work of Kozelek but in the space of a few weeks I have aquired most of his recorded works. Every album(Red house painters, solo)contains incredible, timeless music but this is the most consistent of the lot. Every track is a masterpiece, beautifully recorded, with a warmth and humbleness missing from practically all music these days. Anyone who loves good, guitar-based music needs to own this album. it is incredible.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2004
After the 'rollercoaster' album and 'ocean beach' i felt things went downhill a bit for mark kozelek, maybe it was just me. The mentioned albums were written by him and performed by 'red house painters' After dis-banding RHP he decided to go solo which didnt realy do it for me, but i never thought he didnt have another great album to give us. This is it.
I hope any RHP fan will love this as it brings back to life some of those great moment from which RHP were at their best. With 2 former members of 'red house painters' on here one wonders how long till they reform.
Some of the tracks on here go on for what sounds like too long, but it never is as Kozelek knows when things are working right and sounding good. This album sounds totally timeless, and with Mark Kozelek's apathetic vocals its a sound you sink into and let yourself be transported to wherever feels right.
At times previous efforts have been too acoustic and one dimentional, but now on 'ghosts of the great highway' we have enough electric guitar to satisfy and even a string quartet which i have always wished for alongside Kozelek's voice.
It's almost impossible not to press 'play' once this cd finnishes as some of the tunes stick in your head all day demanding another listen which will reveal something new about each of them. This album grows with each listen and i feel will stay with time. Total quality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If this album had only one song on it and that song was "Carry me Ohio" that in itself would be worth the asking price. But what is wonderful about "Ghosts of the great highway" is that the quality on this album is in a straight line since this is one of Mark Kozelek greatest albums. If you are reading this review you probably know the many and vary works of the great man from his days in the Red House Painters, to his cover albums of songs by Modest Mouse and AC/DC. The Sun Kil Moon vehicle is essentially a continuation of all this and more. Kozelek is one of the best singer songwriters to have emerged in American rock since Neil Young. It is a great rolling ballad over 6 minutes which chronicles a great love and a great loss. Kozelek's regret throughout is almost crushing particularly where he laments over this beautiful melody "sorry that, I could never love you back, I could never care enough, in these last days". It is a song that has played so many times over the years and yet I come back to it again and again ("Lost Verses" on April is equally haunting).

Other highlights here include "Salvador Sanchez" a blistering Crazy Horse style rock out with guitar solo's that sting so much they almost hurt. The truly epic song acoustic lament about "Duk Koo Kim" is fourteen minute chronicle on the fate of the South Korean boxer who tragically died following a boxing match against the American fighter Ray Mancini. Its length is symbolic since 14 minutes was the amount of time that Kim spent in the ring that fateful day. One verse is especially poignant where Kozelek states -

"the boy from Seoul was hanging in good
but the pounding took to him
and there in the square he lay alone
without face without crown
and the angel who looked upon
never came down"

Other songs worthy of a mention in dispatches are the wonders of "Glen Tipton" or "Gentle Moon" but you know the direction of travel on this review. It is alleged that a new Sun Kil Moon album is imminent namely "Admiral Fell Promises". Having already heard the stunning "Australian Winter" from this release anticipation in this part of the world is in the category of "fit to bursting". In the meantime if you have never heard of Kozelek begin here and start to travel this great highway.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 22 March 2004
I have been a big fan of Red House Painters for nigh on two years now having first heard them (bizarrely enough) on the Vanilla Sky soundtrack album, which featured, what I later discovered to be, an alternative version of the beautiful and haunting song "Have You Forgotten". The song blew me away and I found myself playing it constantly. I decided to check out more and so I tracked down (with some difficulty!!) the Songs For A Blue Guitar album, which I loved.
I went on to purchase several other albums ( Retrospective, Ocean Beach, Old Ramon etc.) and dug them too. So, on hearing of Mark Kozelec's new project Sun Kil Moon I didn't hesitate before ordering a copy. I approached it with high hopes, but to say that I was NOT disappointed is an understatement!!
Whilst it is similar in almost every way to the Red House Painters (especially later) work this does not detract in any way from it's brilliance. It is indeed RHP..... only better!!
Although I enjoyed RHP's albums it's hard to deny that they all contained moments of incredible beauty, interspersed with some "filler". This album however has none of the latter and PLENTY of the former. It's consistency is such that it is difficult to single out particular tracks for specific praise, but "Ohio", "Last Ride"/"Floating" and the 14+ minute epic (there's always one isn't there?!!) "Duk Koo Kim" are outstanding.
To any RHP fans who may hesitate before purchasing this album all I can say is..... DON'T, you won't be disappointed. Ghosts Of The Great Highway is a stone classic, and it's easily Kozelek's best and most consisdent work to date.
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