(Will You) Find Me, Ruben Olivares (?)
September 3, 2009
With the addition of two more live albums that came out recently, Mark Kozelek has released more live records than red house painters released records. Well wait, pretty close. With the addition of these 2, we’re at 5 live albums of some sort. We’ve got Little Drummer Boy, White Christmas, 7 Songs Belfast, and now we add Lost Verses, and Find Me Ruben Olivares- Live in Spain to the list.
These live albums are nice, it serves as something to tie us over until the next Sun Kil Moon record. However, on Little Drummer Boy and White Christmas, they only serve small bits of goodness for me. On each record, I find there are a couple incredible instances captured. On Little Drummer Boy, we get a very bare, and lovely version of All Mixed Up, originally by the cars. If you listen with headphones, you can hear the pick foll against the strings on each strum of the chords, and it sounds like a sigh of relief on the ears. His voice is top notch, hitting all those louder parts on cue and definitely on point. Sometimes I still get bothered by the bore or drone of his low voice these days. He often winces at the thought of his voice during the days of Red House Painters, which was just over 15 years ago, but that could be him at his best. I mean, on an album like “Rollercoaster” we get a healthy dose on all accounts. “24” was that first real instance of that drone, but it really came into effect on songs like Katy Song, or the piano version of Mistress or Strawberry Hill, but I digress. Another big moment on Little Drummer Boy is Carry Me Ohio, which sounds like it was done with a second guitarist (possibly Phil Carney? Yes.) Even though he draws away from hitting those higher notes on the “Carry Me Ohio” part, I’ll take it. The guitar line flows so nicely.
White Christmas contained some gems as well. A song called “Admiral Fell Promises”, a fine example of a love song by Kozelek. We don’t get many of those, so we need to cherish them. This one has some memorable lyrics that don’t come without some lingering memories of melancholy, such as “a thousand days have passed in this house she and i were sharing and i hate myself for it but i have stopped caring”. Simple yes, but haven’t we all felt that once before? I hope we see something come from this, even though its eight years later. Before we’re treated to the awkward A Capella’s of dragonflies and three legged cat, we’re treated to solo versions of Shadows and Evil. Shadows is executed almost flawlessly, but with the replacement of the word “sorry” for “stupid” just doesn’t jive with me. It sounds out of place. His voice suits this version well though, I’ll take it. Evil. Fuck. Evil. Just him and his guitar, and its still pulled off. It sounds haunting as ever before. His voice doesn’t hold back, and its perfect. Just perfect. When he sings the lines about looking evil, I feel it. He stays true to the original riffs of the song and that helps. He tends to re-work RHP songs when performing them now, but this one he just lets it be played the way it should be.
With that being said, I am just going to get to reviewing these two albums:
We’ll start with the Live in Spain album, “Find Me, Ruben Olivares”. The album opens with Heron Blue, A song from “April” that I couldn’t stand. When Kozelek released the “Nights” compilation with a different version, I was happy. The “Drum Version” was much better. This version isn’t too bad, very simple, very quiet. Simple, for a bit, then we’re treated to that triplet finger picking style we know from Trailways and Blue Orchids. This was a nice surprise while listening. It works well. Next we get “Finally”, a Kath Bloom cover. Its pretty good, but there’s too much echo on Kozelek’s voice, and its sort of a bother. Also, sometimes I don’t want to hear covers, I’d rather hear him play his own. Now I know how people don’t feel when I play live shows and more than half my set is Red House Painters songs. Next is Lucky Man. His version of Lucky Man. Its not him covering ELP. This track isn’t too hot, in my opinion. Sounds a little de-tuned, but I can’t do better so its still a good job. Next is “New Partner”, a Will Oldham cover. I like it, even though 50% of the first four songs have been covers, this song is probably best of the 4 so far. Blue Orchids up next. I’m not big on this song, overall so I’m just gonna skip it. Sorry. But! Next we get “Send in the Clowns” and its played in that triplet style and it sounds good! This is a sad song and he does it justice.
Okay, we’re about halfway through. So far, I like two of the covers, and I’m not totally sold on any of the originals. I hope we have a turn for the better soon. Lets continue:
Next we’re treated to an original, a personal favourite of mine when it comes to his solo stuff or post red house painters material. Find Me, Ruben Olivares was featured on his first solo EP, “Rock n Roll Singer”, which contained one original?, some AC/DC covers, and a John Denver cover. Something like that. The studio version is amazing, I’d recommend you check it out. This live cut is great. I was afraid he’d cheat it on the voice but he puts the effort forth and hits those high notes. You can tell a bit that its a bit of high demand for him, but an A for effort and an A for achievement. Yeah, this one is great. Next we get… Trailways! He does a great job with it too. Straying a bit from the album version, but I don’t blame him. There’s a bit of pause, almost as if he doesn’t remember when to come in or doesn’t remember what he is doing with it. But when he does start with the opening line about Carolyn, he’s got it down pat. Its a bit rushed, but it happens. He doesn’t fall behind. Exceptional vocals on this as well. I find I’m so critical with his vocal delivery, but it can make or break songs in a lot of cases in the world of music. Next is “Moorestown”. This version is much like the version from Little Drummer Boy. Before April came out, this version was nice, because it was something new, something to look forward to. Then we heard the studio version, which is one the highlights of Sun Kil Moon’s catalogue to date. The overdubs, the voice, the string accompaniment. Breathtaking to say the least. So to hear this again, kind of a buzz kill. Next is something very cool though, “San Geronimo”. I love love love this song. I have this version of him playing it on a radio broadcast, just him and his guitar and its so stark and beautiful and his voice would just soar over the guitar. This version is busy with its finger picking, sounds like 2 guitars, probably with Carney since he was there when this was originally recorded. Actually no, he showed up in 95, but isn’t on the album. Its great. Refreshing. Glad this happened. There is the problem that his voice gets a bit drowned out by the guitar, but this happens. Next is a reworking of Summer Dress. Again, this is really great stuff. Accompanied by one set of strings. The guitar work is higher on the neck, as compared to the original whole step down tuning of the studio version, still ends on a minor note. Maybe Phil Carney played the strings? Next is Tonight in Bilbao. This is one of my favourite songs from April. The ending turnaround part in the last couple minutes on the album version always suckered me in. Another double guitar effort, this is spot on. This song is almost hypnotic. Lastly, is “Mistress”. I don’t know how I feel about it. I’m not big on the rolling guitar line, though the help of the second strumming guitar makes it bottom heavy, which is nice. Kozelek makes sure that his voice stays low, but doesn’t drone too much. I don’t like on all live and radio versions of Mistress I’ve heard the lines “your praise…stuffed me with” sounds rushed. Also his voice stays pretty stagnant, and doesn’t venture much. The KCRW version from Red Perspective was definitive. Kozelek’s voice is almost chilling on that cut, and it always sticks in my head when I hear other takes from live sets as of recent or from RHP shows in the 90’s. I don’t know, its ok I guess. Its better than other versions I’ve heard so I’ll give it that. They speed up at the end when Mark does his “ahh’s”
So lets see:
Stand Out Tracks:
Find Me, Ruben Olivares
Tonight in Bilbao
Thats a little bit over half the album, but on the strength of these songs and the fact that other songs aren’t total throw-aways, I’ll give this album a solid 7.8/10. I think that’s fair. Stay tuned and I’ll review Lost Verses.
Bonus Points for guessing the origin of the bracketed sections of the post title.