Red House Painters Old Ramon

Old Ramon, the long-awaited Red House Painters release, stands up despite being released four years after the recording sessions started. Curiously, the protracted delay hasn't adversely affected this expressive batch of pop songs. Mark Kozelek and company built their reputation on impressive songs about pain, despair and loss. Old Ramon finds the gloom merchants arriving in a more hopeful place. "Michigan" is probably the disc's highlight, a slow building number about love and summer cottages. "Wop-a-Din-Din," a ditty about Kozelek's cat, also delights, but the album really crackles during the nine-minute-plus "River," which quietly rolls along, gathering swift currents in its wake. (Sub Pop)