Mark Kozelek Takes a Detour “Down in the Willow Garden”

By Audrey Avril ’19

imgresMark Kozelek is a busy artist. Last year, under his moniker, Sun Kil Moon, he released his highly-praised album Benji and followed up with Universal Themes just this past summer. On Oct. 27 he is releasing Dreams of Childhood, a spoken word album with the help of Argentinian actor Nicolas Pauls. Currently, Kozelek is collaborating with Jesu (Justin Broadrick, also of Godflesh) for a January LP aptly titled Jesu/Sun Kil Moon.

Yet the guy still found time to create a short collection of songs. Released on Oct. 7, Down in the Willow Garden is a small, four song collection of mostly covers or “retellings” of songs. The EP is free with all purchases of his work through Caldo Verde Records, and for any fan of his sound, it is a great deal.

The song for which is album is titled, “Down in the Willow Garden,” is taken and sung in two versions. The song itself is an Appalachian tune sung by many artists since its first popular incarnation in 1954 by Charlie Monroe. Most artists who tackled this story of a man who murders his lover Rose Connelly, take it in a light folk direction, depending on the sound of the artist. Think “El Condor Pasa” as sung by Simon and Garfunkel.

But Kozelek takes this song to the root of its horror through his stark and brutally realistic retelling of the story. In one version, the guitar chugs tensely along as Kozelek brings the speaker to life. The lyrics of the song remain the same, yet his style does away with superfluous dramatics until it is barely more than spoken word. Whereas other versions of “Down in the Willow Garden” are sung by artists in their own respective styles, Kozelek makes it sound like a murderer–quiet yet terrifying in his brutal honestly–is telling the story.

In covering Led Zeppelin’s “Sick Again,” the song is nearly unrecognizable. While the original track from their 1975 album Physical Graffiti is a big, bold, classic rock song, Kozelek strips the track of its gritty guitars, cleanses it of its rough, crass vocals, and turns into something more tender and sympathetic, even if the situation described in the song won’t let it be completely so. It begins to feel like half of a disjointed conversation with all the true complexities of the emotions and consequences the story entails.

The unique sense of honesty achieved through his singing and songwriting make Kozelek’s songs seem real and tangible, and by adding that sense to the songs of the album, make them both more serious and more alive. This album showcases Kozelek’s lyrical mastery of a sort of hyperrealism, even if the songs are not drawn from his own wonderfully bizarre musings on common occurrences (“The Possum” is a good example of this). Down in the Willow Garden is a good addition to any collection for Kozelek or Sun Kil Moon fans, or those willing to begin listening. If you enjoy his sound, you will enjoy listening to his take on these songs immensely.