Rock 'N' Roll Singer, with its inclusion of three AC/DC songs, calls to mind the Red House Painters' 1994 EP Shock Me, built around a reworking of the Ace Frehley song. However, Kozelek provides a much more radical reading of "Rock 'N' Roll Singer" than Shock Me did of its title cut by slowing the pace to a crawl and rolling out the testosterone-drenched lyrics in a quiet, understated, and almost menacing rumble. The result turns Bon Scott's ego-heavy ode to hard-rock stardom into a low meditation on the modest fame that has rightly come to Kozelek for being one of the more interesting songwriters of the 1990s as well as a dour comment on his protracted and semipublic battle with 4AD over his output with Red House Painters. When he lets out with a breathy "By the time I was half alive/I knew what I was gonna be," you get the feeling that Kozelek's half alive even as he sings the words; he's earned the right to claim the title.
The other covers -- "You Ain't Got a Hold on Me," "Bad Boy Boogie," and John Denver's "Around and Around" -- are just as interesting, but the three evenly spaced original tracks are the best argument for why Kozelek ought to be a lot more widely appreciated than he is. "Find Me, Ruben Olivares," the opener, could have easily fit on any Nick Drake album, while "Metropol 47," deceptively melodic and upbeat, is a moving sketch of solitude and the brief connection between two people wandering in unfamiliar territory. The EP's standout track, however, is the closing number, "Ruth Marie," a haunting first-person account of an aging woman alone in a nursing home, speaking her summing-up words to her daughters. A lovely song performed utterly without a trace of sentiment or condescension, it's worth the price of the EP by itself, and it ought to encourage those who haven't heard Kozelek to check out his work with the RHPs, something much in need of reappraisal.