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  Old Ramon  
  Red House Painters  
  Sub Pop  
Release Date:
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I have had this CD for months. One night, i let a co-worker borrow it. The next day she came in and said, "Well, i guess i like it. But it has a love song .... to his CAT!"

"Yeah," i replied. "That's a pretty cool song."

"But it's about a CAT. I mean, that is so wierd."

I thought about this for a moment and, suddenly, looked at her in a different light. "A man's relationship with his cat is a very deep and personal one. You wouldn't understand -- you are a dog person."

"I guess so. I just think it's wierd that he wrote a love song to his cat!"

The song in question is called Wop A Din-Din and it is a light dreamy-eyed affair that starts this album off quite nicely. At least for me, but then again, i am a cat person.

In fact, i think this whole distinction works quite well in this case: there are cat people and dog people. Red House Painters are cat people. This implies a whole lot about personality and life in general....

The point is this: i, and the bulk of my Minion Peer Group, are cat people. Therefore, i have a newfound respect for Mark Kozelek and his band after hearing that one song. Oh sure, i liked the music before. But now i sense that there is some indescribable bond between me and the band. If, say, i were ever stuck in an elevator with them, we could talk about cats to distract us from our impending doom. This makes them seem more ... human i guess. It makes them seem more like me.

Kozelek has always painted a picture of himself as a slightly melancholy, generally alone person with poor luck in finding a mate. I can relate to that. But now that i know he has a cat as well...

You know, i bet this all works in reverse as well. I bet that my dog person co-worker now feels a little bit further away from the band. If she were stuck in an elevator with Red House Painters what would they talk about? Who knows -- the possibilites have no constraints.

Well, for about 5 paragraphs now i have ranted about cat people vs. dog people. If you don't get it by now then you are never going to get the distinction. So let's move on and talk about the rest of the album.

The songs for Old Ramon were recorded in 1998, and then sat unused while Large Record Companies acted like whiny babies over who owns what. Eventually, Red House Painters got the legal rights to release their own music. So this album is 3 years old and fans have been waiting for it anxiously. The logical question to ask is: is it brilliant? Is it a masterpiece?

The answer is no. It's not the greatest album Red House Painters have ever released (i would argue that such a title goes to 1993's self-titled disc). Then again, it is not the worst. It's not an amazingly strong album, nor is it a weak album.

What it is, though, is the logical follow-up to 1996's Songs For A Blue Guitar. If Old Ramon had been released on schedule no one would have blinked an eye and there would not have been so much internet hype about this disc. In fact, production wise, this album sounds a lot like Songs For A Blue Guitar: clearly produced guitars and bass and drums meandering around behind Kozelek's sleepy but expressive voice. It is an album of solid poppy rock tunes. There is a vague "singer/songwriter" feeling to it, probably caused by Kozelek's confessional writing style, and his friendly voice.

I give this album the same criticism that i give to all Red House Painters releases: the music is beautiful and emotive and ... long. Songs drag on and on. Guitar solos and instrumental jams last for minutes and minutes. Let's put it this way: 6 minutes is short for a Red House Painters song. No, really.

It's good music, but there is a LOT of it. Old Ramon clocks in at about 72 minutes. Sure, maybe an interlude could have been cut here, or maybe a jam could have been eliminated there, but there are no songs that i would delete. All are of high quality.

Particular favorites include Cruiser, which is about driving around in a car, and Michigan which is a good little song with a happy meandering bass riff, good drumming, and slide guitar. Also noteworthy is Golden, not only because it is only 4 minutes long, but also because it is a groovy little song of Kozeleks' voice and guitar, with really deep bass riffs hiding so far in the background that you are not even sure if they are there or not.

My overall verdict on this album is that if you like Red House Painters you will not be disappointed by Old Ramon. If you are a fan of pop-drenched guitar rock, then it is worth checking out, as are any Red House Painters releases.

Related Links:

Vocalist Mark Kozelek's solo ep, Rock N Roll Singer.
Red House Painters in concert for Old Ramon.


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