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June 8, 2009

This week’s review is Lost Verses Live, the latest record from Mark Kozelek.

This latest offering from Mark Kozelek, which follows closely behind his recent album of covers, the Finally LP, is a collection of live solo performance recordings. The material showcases Kozelek, accompanied by guitarist and collaborator Phil Carney, once again in the sparse singer-songwriter mode and touches mostly upon the Sun Kil Moon albums, with a bit of his cover work thrown in, and even makes a brief visit to the Red House Painters catalogue.

Kozelek is excellent at what he does, both with a band and without, and over the course of his career, he’s managed to take what is presented on his solo records in its purest form – his voice and guitar playing – and make a number of wonderful records around it. This particular one is similar to his past solo live records, but it really exhibits Kozelek as he is now: one of the most respected, yet still quite cult, American singer-songwriters on the scene, an artist who has grown into his current status over time, even if he’s never become fully comfortable with it.

There is an honesty about Kozelek’s work, and it is very evident on this record, not just in the subject matter, but perhaps even more so in the actual performances themselves. Kozelek was a reluctant performer for many years, and even now, with more confidence than in the past, he’s still unsure of himself in front of an audience. That’s one of the first things one notices when listening through this record. It was recorded in big venues, but it’s an intimate-sounding thing, and it’s kind of like he’s in your living room playing the tunes, occasionally feeling uncomfortable doing so with you watching. He sounds fantastic, of course, but the way in which he abruptly stops many of the songs short of an actual ending, and his self-deprecating stage banter (at one pont asking the audience if they appreciate him, jokingly, but still…) seem a bit out of synch with the clear talent and adulation recorded here. That difficulty on his part has, to a certain extent, given his shows a reputation for precariousness over the years, and it says something important about the nature of his work that these live recordings aren’t dressed up to be something they’re not.

As mentioned, most of the songs on Lost Verses Live are from the Sun Kil Moon records, and are done in a fingerpicked folk style which will be familiar if you’ve heard any of Kozelek’s solo work. It’s a simple, beautiful record, and part of a trio of fine albums released recently through Kozelek’s own Caldo Verde label, consisting of the aforementioned Finally LP, Lost Verses Live, and another live release, Find Me, Ruben Olivares – Live in Spain, which was made available as a gift to accompany orders from the Caldo Verde page a few months back. It has since been made available for purchase through the site, and with its different track listing, makes a good companion to the Lost Verses record. If you’re interested in Mark Kozelek, definitely check these three latest records out, they won’t disappoint.

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