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old ramon
Red House Painters
Old Ramon
Sub Pop

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It’s about damn time somebody released this album.

Old Ramon was threatening to become a myth on a par with Smile or the original vinyl edition of Dylan’s Freewheelin’ -- one of those records pulled from beneath black trench coats in dark alleyways and poorly lit record convention bathrooms, and traded for tapes of Brian Wilson doing acid with David Crosby and that crazy guy from Starsky & Hutch.

When you really stop to look at it, though, Red House Painters leader Mark Kozelek has kept himself so busy that you might not even have noticed the lack of new RHP material. In the nearly three years since Old Ramon was recorded, mixed, etc., Kozelek has released two critically acclaimed solo albums (Rock 'N Roll Singer and What’s Next to the Moon), penned the score for the independent film Last Ball and appeared in a little movie called Almost Famous.

Now, a thousand-odd days after its original release date, Old Ramon will finally see the light of day in record stores across the country courtesy of uber-indie Sub Pop.

From the word go, Old Ramon emits a distinctly Neil Young-ish vibe. "Wop-A-Din-Din" and "Byrd Joel" both begin with acoustic-led intros that eventually mutate into Crazyhorse-styled feedback frenzies, with Kozelek’s striking vocals still taking front and center amidst the chaos his bandmates create. "Void" absolutely gushes harmony as it spends the better part of ten minutes staggering sluggishly about on pleasant plucking and pared-down percussion, while "Crusier"'s terse riffing and smoky tone bring to mind fellow indie icon J. Mascis and his much beloved Dinosaur Jr. "Golden" is strongly reminiscent of Kozelek’s solo work; it's a glorious acoustic-led ballad that showcases Kozelek's knack for clever songwriting and his uncanny ability to evoke a mood of utter despair with only voice and guitar.

But as wonderful as parts of Old Ramon are, the spaces between the high points are at times, less than impressive. The pairing of "Between Days" and "River" is the best example of this phenomenon. Both are, at best, run-of-the-mill folk-rock songs, meandering tunelessly along mediocre paths for marathon durations (8:30 and 11:24 respectively) before collapsing onto themselves. "Smokey" and "Kavita" suffer from similar problems, weighed down by their own sense of self-loathing.

When you really get down to it, Old Ramon could never have been as good as people have built it up in their heads to be. Three years of expectations boiled down to ten tracks and 70 minutes simply doesn’t allow that kind of magic to unfold. As it stands, Old Ramon is a solid record by a competent band that's just getting back into the swing of things. Whether or not they're able to capitalize on the market they helped to create remains to be seen.

-- Jason Jackowiak
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