Ghosts of the Great Highway
It may seem slightly strange that Kozelek would choose to create a new band at this point in his career; if anything, perhaps this name change should have occurred before Songs For A Blue Guitar. The self absorption of the early Painters is all but gone, and the musical style has shifted from slow-core to straddling between Neil Young-like country rock and Neil Young-like grunge. This Neil Young comparison is all but inevitable, especially when Kozelek often uses his high register. Considering that Old Ramon was completed in 1998, and that his solo EPs consisted mostly of covers, Kozelek had five years to write this album and it shows; this was easily his most consistent and accessible set of songs to date.
The central tracks are the autobiographical ‘Carry Me Ohio’, where Kozelek touchingly ruminates on his bond with his home state, and the fourteen minute ‘Duk Koo Kim’, where a hypnotic riff drives a tribute to a Vietnamese boxer. Boxing is a repeated theme of Ghosts of the Great Highway, with the opening line of the first track ‘Glenn Tipton’ stating that “Cassius Clay was hated more than Sonny Liston” and the boxing lyrics of ‘Salvador Sanchez’ recycled in the acoustic closer ‘Pancho Villa’. The aggressive ‘Salvador Sanchez’ and ‘Lily and Parrots’ provide the most adrenaline, while the middle sequence of ‘Last Tide’, ‘Floating’, and ‘Gentle Moon’ is full of beauty.
Ghosts of the Great Highway was Kozelek’s most consistent, most approachable, and simply best record yet, and even if you were turned off by his navel gazing in his earlier work it’s well worth hearing.