mark-kozelek-desert-shore1[xrr rating=3.25/5]Mark Kozelek may be the most prolific songwriter of his generation. Since the debut of Red House Painters’ Down Colorful Hill in 1992, the singer has produced albums under that band name, its spiritual successor, Sun Kil Moon, under his own name and in collaboration in an unceasing stream, with rarely a year going by without a Kozelek release appearing. In 2013 alone, he’s been a primary part of a staggering five albums, including the excellent Perils from the Sea with Jimmy LaValle of the Album Leaf. But for all of his productivity, Kozelek has moved to an increasingly narrow style and array of subject matter; he sings about failed relationships and dead boxers and the gradual weight of age, generally over an acoustic guitar with his idiosyncratic lyric enjambment.

Mark Kozelek & Desertshore functions as both a Kozelek record and the third release from Desertshore, comprised of longtime collaborating guitarist Phil Carney and pianist Chris Connolly. The singer can’t help but dominate the 10 tracks on the album, such is his distinct delivery and rambling, poetic lyricism, but the music is varied enough from his style as to not feel like a solo album. In fact, aside from Perils from the Sea (on which Kozelek handled solely vocals and lyrics), Mark Kozelek & Desertshore is probably the most musically diverse record the singer has appeared on in years. Strangely, though, this doesn’t seem to matter much, with Kozelek murmuring his peculiar combination of stream of consciousness observations with bizarre tangents as easily over Carney’s guitar as his own.

The group sometimes approaches their collaboration with a heavy hand. The leaden “You Are Not of My Blood” repeats a single reverb-heavy riff ad nauseam, sounding like Neil Young at his laziest. This prompts Kozelek to match it, repeating the song title as a chorus with hushed background vocals; it may be one of his most disposable lyrical performances of his entire career. Similarly, “Livingstone Bramble” attempts to build a song over a single guitar lick, but manages better results buoyed by Kozelek’s bass work and Mike Stevens’ drums.

Fortunately, there’s more than a few tracks to counterbalance the clunkers. Opener “Mariette” is a breezy, soulful tale of a long ago day in New Orleans, anchored by a sprightly guitar line, while “Hey You Bastards I’m Still Here” finds Kozelek rambling about random topics—from meeting Anton LaVey to his childhood obsession with the Steve McQueen film Papillion — over an eerie, subdued backing. “Sometimes I Can’t Stop” may be the highlight of the album, with each of Kozelek’s, Carney’s and Connolly’s contributions working in perfect balance; Kozelek continues his contemplation of the never-ending journey of the working musician, mourning Jason Molina along the way, while Connolly’s piano adds a beautifully precise counterpoint to Carney’s simple guitar line. It’s a wonderful piece of simplicity, culminating Kozelek’s mournful falsetto vocal coda.

At this rate, Kozelek has several dozen more albums in him before he can even contemplate taking a breather. While Mark Kozelek & Desertshore is undoubtedly a minor work among many, it is not without its highlights and is worth a spin or two. And if you don’t like it, just wait a couple months for his next release.

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