With 2013 shaping up to be one of his most prolific years, singer/songwriter Mark Kozelek followed a series of live albums with a collaborative studio album with Album Leaf's Jimmy LaValle and now Mark Kozelek and Desertshore, a collection of new songs made with members of his former bands Red House Painters and Sun Kil Moon. In his earlier days with those bands, Kozelek's songs were dreamy and wistful, sadhearted but luxurious slowcore rooted to reality with his painfully honest autobiographical lyrics. In his numerous live solo albums, Kozelek's focus on the naked storytelling aspect of his music has come more into focus, with the chord changes from a spare guitar sometimes feeling like little more than an obligatory musical backdrop for his wordy, diary entry-like lyrics about the loneliness of traveling and growing older as an indie rock lifer. Made up of former Red House Painters guitarist Phil Carney, drummer Mike Stevens, and pianist Chris Connolly, Desertshore returns Kozelek's often raw lyrics to a rich bedding of narcotic folk-rock not unlike his work in the mid-'90s. What feels different is just how much he has to say, and the amount of direct details that make it into his songs. "Livingstone Bramble" manages to include scenes of talking with a panhandling crackhead, watching a boxing match on ESPN next to a sleeping girlfriend, and even buying a bottle of water at the corner deli before getting into a list of which guitarists make the grade and which the narrator dislikes. While Kozelek recites what could be a boring laundry list of what he did minute to minute over a Crazy Horse rhythm, the delivery somehow renders every mundane detail essential to the song. "Katowice or Cologne" fades out with him still spitting out lyrics about what he's daydreaming about doing on his vacation. He sometimes pulls the rug out from under himself with a stark dose of heaviness, jumping from lines about what he had for dinner to sad laments about the passing of friends like American Music Club's Tim Mooney and Magnolia Electric Co.'s Jason Molina. The country & western bounce of "Don't Ask About My Husband" offers a lighthearted tale of devious infidelity, switching up the narration from Kozelek's sometimes uncomfortably specific songs about his own life to that of a possibly fictitious character running around the world behind her spouse's back. Finding a midpoint between the lushness of the full-band arrangements and Kozelek's increasingly intricate and plainspoken songwriting approach, the album changes moods and colors song to song but offers so much emotional insight, both musically and lyrically, that the shifts are almost necessary to punctuate each overflowing statement. Nuanced, dark, funny, harrowing, but also amiable, Mark Kozelek and Desertshore is one of the more digestible and entertaining documents of what could stand as the most prolific writing period of Kozelek's already inspired career.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas