At the moment, has-been pop stars like Rod Stewart and Michael McDonald have the interpretation of unlikely source material on lockdown; Stewart's two Great American Songbook discs and McDonald's Motown are attracting attention (and actual dollar bills) from folks who last bought a CD back when people thought Rod Stewart was sexy. Former Red House Painters front man Mark Kozelek probably won't catch much overflow from this adult-contempo trendlet, but he should, since he's been turning other people's songs into his own for years now--first with the Painters, who on 1996's Songs for a Blue Guitar turned the Cars' "All Mixed Up" and Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs" into extended bouts of Crazy Horse melancholia, and more recently on his own solo records, where he's transformed AC/DC and John Denver tunes into concise fits of Nick Drake melancholia. Ghosts of the Great Highway, the debut by Kozelek's new band Sun Kil Moon, doesn't include any covers; it's a comely reinvention of the Painters' elegant folk-rock balladry with reflections on two different Judas Priest members and five different professional boxers thrown in to balance whatever heavy thoughts a strummed acoustic guitar inevitably provokes. But along with stripped-down readings of those new songs, expect some liberal versioning of other stuff at Gypsy Tea Room on Sunday night; at a solo gig in New York a few weeks ago, Kozelek deftly worked his way through the first few bars of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the U.S.A." to satisfy a clever heckler's challenge. Some guys have all the luck.
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