Red House Painters – Songs for a Blue Guitar
by Killian Laher
As grunge fizzled out and the nineties wore on, I found myself in need of more thoughtful, quieter music. A throwaway conversation with a colleague (now a good friend) discussed what we might listen to when you want to take yourself down and wallow a bit. My suggestion was Lou Reed – Berlin, whereas my companion suggested the Red House Painters, who I had read about but not heard.
Intrigued by a potential new source of gloom, I borrowed Songs for a Blue Guitar. It opens with the unforgettable, downbeat yet sunny strum of Have You Forgotten, referencing American cultural touchstone Casey Kasem. And what lyrics they are, opening with: “can’t let you be cos your beauty won’t allow me”. What a line! With music full of empathy, almost consoling your ears. Halfway through, the most gorgeous side-order of steel guitar permeates the song, lifting it to even greater heights. The title track, another lazy strum, followed, with an equally fetching use of steel guitar. A total gear change followed with the very Crazy Horse-style workout Make Like Paper, 12 minutes of Mark Kozelek and co’s amped-up guitars and drawled vocals. This is almost matched by the 11 minute Crazy Horse makeover of Wings’ Silly Love Songs later on the album.
The album isn’t all grim seriousness, I Feel The Rain Fall has a jaunty, almost throwaway feel. Yes’ Long Distance Runaround and The Cars’ All Mixed Up are also covered, and these are more than a little self-indulgent. On the other hand, there is more acoustic loveliness in the shape Revelation Big Sur and Another Song for a Blue Guitar.
I loved it and longed for more of the same, devouring their other albums. Unlike these days, four years elapsed between this release and Mark Kozelek’s first solo EP, a far cry from where he is now, in every way. Those wondering how anybody ever cared about him should listen to this.