With warmer weather just around the corner, my thoughts will be turning to difficult easy listening music. What makes the music difficult is that it often challenges your mindless calm with interesting nuances that demand attention. 4AD had long been a source for this kind of music. While I wouldn’t call The Cocteau Twins or Dead Can Dance background music, it can evoke a particular mood.
When I’m in the mood for quiet introspection, or just sitting on the porch with a glass of tea, there nothing like The Red House Painters, or more specifically Mark Kozelek to set the mood. The Red House Painters were more or less introduced to 4AD by another favorite musical Mark of mine; Mark Eitzel of the American Music Club.
The two Marks must have been friends, because musically they had a lot in common. While AMC went in a rock-folk-jazz trajectory, Kozelek and his band Red House Painters would go more for the folk-rock-country direction. Both bands made highly acclaimed music that was sad and beautiful. Kozelek’s kind of acoustic folk-rock melancholy seemed like a perfect fit for 4AD.
Kozelek took more control over the recording of Red House Painter albums to the point of nearly recording the last two on his own. Problems with the American distribution arm of 4AD prompted the release of the band from their contract. After the project sat in limbo, Kozelek was stuck with finishing up Songs For a Blue Guitar on his own. Despite being labeled a Red House Painters album, it was all Kozelek. That’s not a bad thing, because he basically was The Red House Painters.
Released in 1996, Songs For a Blue Guitar carried on much of the stylings from Ocean beach just a year before. Unlike on Ocean Beach however, Kozelek would branch out with more varied songs that ran the gamut of slow country rock in the title to faster paced songs with electric guitar solos as in ‘Make Like Paper’.
Kozelek’s sparse folk styling was still present in songs like ‘Have You Forgotten’, but it would be mixed with familiar songs from Yes, The Cars and Paul McCartney and Wings. In each case the covers took on a life and identity of their own within Kozelek’s relaxed, gentle sound.
Oddly enough the album had no singles, although there were two promotional CDs for ‘All Mixed Up’ and ‘Make Like Paper’. Songs For a Blue Guitar was widely acclaimed by critics, but like a lot of great music, it never got the kind of exposure it truly deserved.
Unfortunately for Kozelek that would be a pattern. More record label problems would delay his next project under the name Red House Painters for years until Old Ramon was released in 2001. Fortunately for fans of Kozelek, he had a string of releases under his own name that came in close succession from 2000 up to the present day.