I consider myself a Mark Kozelek fan, and despite the challenges he continues to send my way, I still maintain this status. Thus, when a new Koz Christmas tune sneaks out, I feel obligated to make at the very least, a small mention of it. Mark gave us an entire Christmas record only 2 years ago, has snuck Christmas tunes on multiple live records, and he thankfully seems determined to continue to churn out little Christmas baubles for us to enjoy. “O Holy Night” appears on Koz’s latest, Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites, and simply said, it is quite lovely. The cover is certainly not a reinvention of the song (as I could somehow imagine Jose Gonzalez doing while not veering far from Koz’s guitar style), more so a faithful and lovely, traditional cover of this traditional song. The female vocal harmony provided by Mimi Parker (of the equally Christmas-loving Low) is that little bit of nutmeg that makes this eggnog tasty. Without Mimi, it might have been just a tiny bit… bland? Glad she is there.
Bottom Line: A tasty glass of eggnog, thanks to Mimi Parker of Low. Certainly not my standard fare – doesn’t hate on Christmas, doesn’t have any swear words – this one’s for you traditionalists out there.
Mark Kozelek took his classical guitar into the studio in November/December 2013 and recorded a (largely) classical guitar, classic Christmas record. Classic, you say? Yes, but I mean it more in the terms of the subject matter than the execution. The whole tone doesn’t exude the warmth that most classic Christmas records do – I don’t know if Mark Kozelek could do warm & fuzzy, it’s not in his (performing) character. Don’t get me wrong though, the record is lovely. So, if melancholy classical guitar Christmas loveliness is what you’d like, then this LP is for you. This record will fit the bill if you have left-of-center tastes (as in, you love that Low Christmas record) and have a soft spot for very traditional Christmas tunes.
Mark excels in the early traditional songs on this record, such as “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and “Away in a Manger.” There are moments that you can imagine one of those songs being played over a melancholy scene in a Christmas movie. The more contemporary you get, the more hit-and-miss it can become. “Christmas Time is Here” is a standout track; the classical guitar approach is refreshing on a song that has been covered more often than it should, and the spoken word section adds a bit of humor that is very much appreciated. “O Christmas Tree” is a misstep if only for the song selection. Do you know anybody who really loves that song? It’s Christmas white noise, one of those songs that you hear, don’t hate, but truly… never love. Mark’s stab at the Pretenders’ “2000 Miles,” while pretty straightforward, is also excellent (though its ending feels quite abrupt). It’s simple, and quite lovely. I very much admit my bias here, as I lean toward new Christmas, rather than classic Christmas, when it comes to my Christmas mix. There is nothing on this record that I completely disliked, probably because I enjoy Mark Kozelek’s voice too much. However, it did leave me slightly underwhelmed. I appreciate Mark for taking a stab at the Christmas genre that he has flirted with for years, but the Christmas genre is one I am way too familiar with to find full satisfaction with a release with not one original song on it.
Bottom Line: Having a dinner party or scoring an indie Christmas film, add a full point to this score. Otherwise, a missed opportunity by one of our greatest living songwriters to have penned an original song. 3.7/5
So, its not out yet, and you can only hear two tracks (see below), but it was made official overnight (in that you can now preorder it)… that yes, indeed, Mark Kozelek’s first stab at a true Christmas record will be coming out November 4th. The preorder is live. It is real and it is limited. Those unfamiliar with Mark, or more likely, those with that little bit of familiarity with Mark, may say – hey – he has 2 other Christmas albums! No, no… they are just deceptive titles for live shows with minimal Christmas representation. So, be sure to purchase this new album, not White Christmas Live or Little Drummer Boy Live if you want the full thing.
All that said – I’m looking forward to this. This is certainly an album that will be heavily reviewed by major publications, and could very well be the indie-christmas-du-jour release (unless Sufjan releases another). However, I don’t have my hopes too high up – as the only tracks I’ve heard aren’t quite my bag, but that’s just my personal prejudices toward really religious tunes during Christmas (I understand the irony). I do very much love Mark, Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters though…
The CD version has begun showing up at other retailers (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Amazon UK), but if you purchase direct from Caldo Verde, you get a bonus CD, Mark Kozelek: The Kids – Live in London. In addition, there is also a vinyl pressing that has popped up. The numbers are in, and its official – red, green, black and white editions will all be limited to 500 copies each. The red is available exclusively from Caldo Verde (and its live now… likely for 24 hours or so), while the green, white and black are already available for preorder on Bull Moose’s website, as well as on Amazon (Edit: I don’t think any Amazon copies actually shipped – they kind of suck for limited stuff).