Category: Mark Kozelek

Mark Kozelek Covers:
John Denver, KISS, AC/DC, Leonard Bernstein and more!

September 7th, 2010 — 08:32 pm

Mark Kozelek never set out to be a folksinger. He was a moody alt-rocker in his early twenties, founding the band Red House Painters in 1989 in San Francisco as a vehicle for his intensely confessional songwriting. The group lasted several years, gaining some modicum of popularity in the mid nineties thanks to a prolific output on indie label 4AD, and for a while there, it looked like the singer-songwriter would spend his career fleshing out his lyrics and simple melodic tendencies within the full, slightly grungy production dynamic of the time, revealing a penchant for seventies classic rock b-sides with an occasional fuzzpop cover song from the likes of Simon And Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, or Yes.

But Kozelek’s indie label support turned out to be fickle, subject to the pitfalls of the market. And when a major label merger in ’98 left Red House Painter’s new album in limbo, Kozelek turned to solo work, stripping down his sound for a series of intimate recordings that revealed a true folk artist’s soul. Since then, Kozelek has released albums and EPs under both his own name and the name Sun Kil Moon, a band he claims he sees as a continuation of the Red House Painters legacy. But in both cases, the folksinger soul shines through, with recordings built around Kozelek’s ringing nylon string guitar and plaintive, distinctively nasal, roughly-pitched vocals.

Throughout this tumultuous path, Kozelek has celebrated the songs of others alongside his own, choosing to transform rather than merely recast – indeed, many of his covers, such as his take on the West Side Story track Somewhere, have had their melodies dismantled, and bear little resemblance to the original. Though many early band-driven covers are too grungy and raw for a folkblog, his tendency towards slow and melancholy balladry as a solo artist wrings sorrow out of the air, turning sunnier, poppier originals from AC/DC to John Denver to Bing Crosby’s White Christmas into songs steeped in loneliness and regret. Echoey and chilled, the results are melancholy and tender all at once. And with two full-bore tribute albums under his belt – 2001′s AC/CD tribute What’s Next To The Moon and 2005 Modest Mouse tribute Tiny Cities – there’s plenty for coverlovers to dwell upon.

Kozelek’s newest release Admiral Fell Promises, which came out this July, is nominally a Sun Kil Moon project, but there’s nothing here but Kozelek’s broken vocals and eerie guitarplay – and that’s a good thing indeed. The album is coverless, but like many of his previous releases, it came with an EP featuring cover songs: in this case, a Michael Jackson post-mortem, a sweet Stereolab rewrite, and the lovely, delicate Casiotone for the Painfully Alone cover presented below. Both album and EP, plus much of Kozelek’s back catalog in all three incarnations, can be purchased from his label Caldo Verde Records.

Want more? There’s only one Mark Kozelek cover in my archives, but it’s a stunner – and Cover Lay Down is proud to be the only place on the web where you can still get it, thanks to an ongoing commitment to Philly singer-songwriter Denison Witmer to host his 5-song Denison Witmer Covers Project in perpetua.

Cover Lay Down posts new coverfolk features and whatnot twice weekly, sometimes more.

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