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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
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen (Listen via Stereogum)
Christmas Time Is Here (Listen via Stereogum)