Beset by the usual (and, in this day and age, sadly clichéd) label difficulties, Old Ramon has moldered on the shelf for more than two years. Finally resurrected by the good folks at Sub Pop, the album marks no major departures for the Painters, but it does capture the band in an uncharacteristically sprightly mood. The opening track, "Wop-A-Din-Din," an ode to Kozelek's cat, sports a jaunty tune and chiming choruses that, in a better world, would be playing on your radio right now.
Meanwhile, the heaving "Void" and contemplative "Cruiser" display the Painter's deft ability to push songs well past the typical three-minute-pop-song mark without drifting into banal self-indulgence. Those enamored of Kozelek's idiosyncratically jagged guitar are directed to the album's undeniable centerpiece, the majestically winding "River," a half-speed expedition into gently lumbering Neil Young/Crazy Horse country.
While perhaps not the Painters' defining moment (that honor still belongs to 1995's lilting Ocean Beach), the album is a worthy addition to an already remarkable oeuvre. All hoary great-lost-rock-album mysticism aside, Old Ramon deserves its rescue from obscurity, marking both a welcome return and (hopefully) a tacit promise of future installments.
Red House Painters play the Variety Playhouse Mon., June 25.