The Jayhawks reissues, Part I: Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass

RIYL: Flying Burrito Brothers, early Wilco, Gram Parsons

We say Part I because Jayhawks guitarist Gary Louris personally told us that there are plans to reissue the band’s remaining three albums with American and Lost Highway before the end of the year. Insert fist pump here.

It sure seemed like the planets were aligned, on several occasions, for the Jayhawks to become a much bigger band. They were discovered in an only-in-the-movies fashion, as American Recordings A&R chief George Drakoulias was on the phone with the president of Twin Tone Records and heard Blue Earth, the band’s 1989 sophomore album, in the background. He quickly signed them and produced their first two major label albums. They sold well, but beneath the ‘next Black Crowes’ hype they were tagged with at the time, which was a silly tag to hit them with in retrospect, but you know how the music business works, even when it’s counterproductive to a band’s long-term health.

Jayhawks 2010 edit

And ultimately, that inability to break through to the next level cost them in more ways than one. Singer and founder Mark Olson left the band shortly after the song “Blue” failed to take off the way they had hoped it would, and Louris took over the band for three more albums before quietly calling it a day. Then something strange and wonderful happened: Olson realized that he and Louris had unfinished business. The two made a quiet album together, 2009’s Ready for the Flood, and before they knew it, the definitive Jayhawks lineup was playing together again and are currently putting the finishing touches on their first album in eight years. As an appetizer, Sony Legacy has reissued the band’s first two albums for American Recordings along with some hard-to-find B-sides and basement tapes that were the stuff of urban legend. Dig in.

Hollywood Town Hall

Modern rock radio was still in its infancy when Hollywood Town Hall came out in late 1992, and you can’t help but think that the fact that they received support from modern rock stations actually cost them airplay on the traditional rock stations. Whatever the reasons, it deserved to do better, because this is one solid rock album, thanks in no small part to the blossoming of Louris as a songwriter. The Jayhawks were Olson’s band in the beginning, but he would never have written something like “Waiting for the Sun” or “Settled Down Like Rain,” and it’s no coincidence that both of those songs were tapped as singles. The harmonies are as tight as ever, and the inclusion of piano and organ fleshes the songs out and gives even the more countrified moments a rock flavor. For a band that began as country rock act, Hollywood Town Hall is certainly far removed from their roots, yet the band’s essence remains intact.

The bonus tracks are just as good, too, particularly “Leave No Gold” and a raucous version of the gospel standard “Up Above My Head.” Many of these songs never saw the light of day in the US (and two of them were never released at all), so their inclusion here is a big, big plus.

Tomorrow the Green Grass

Here is all you need to know about Tomorrow the Green Grass: when the band announced that they had reformed and were doing a mini-tour, and would be dedicating certain nights to playing one of these two albums in its entirety, the shows where they were playing all of Tomorrow the Green Grass were the first ones to sell out. With keyboardist Karen Grotberg involved in the recording sessions (she came on board after the band had finished recording Hollywood Town Hall) and the band ready to experiment with different sonic textures, songs like the string-kissed “I’d Run Away” soared like no Jayhawks song had ever soared before. “Nothing Left to Borrow” is the best song the Byrds never wrote, and “Blue” practically started its own religion. It’s pop in the best sense of the word, melding a myriad of influences (check out the rockin’ “Real Light”) to create something wholly unique. Tomorrow the Green Grass is in a class all its own.

And look what Legacy dug up to go with it – the so-called Mystery Demos that Jayhawks fans gossiped about for a good 10 years on message boards. Comprised of two sessions between Olson and Louris (one of which featured a violinist), several of these songs wound up on Tomorrow the Green Grass, but the stark versions here are just as memorable, particularly “Red’s Song” and an almost fully formed “Nothing Left to Borrow.” Of the tracks to receive the deluxe recording treatment, the Grotberg-sung “Last Cigarette” and the stomping title track are highlights. We eagerly await Round II of the Jayhawks reissue campaign, not to mention the band’s new album, their first in eight years, later this spring. For the first time in a long time, it’s good to be a Jayhawks fan. (Sony Legacy 2010)

The Jayhawks official website
Click to buy Hollywood Town Hall from Amazon
Click to buy Tomorrow the Green Grass from Amazon

  

Mark Olson: Many Colored Kite


RIYL: The Jayhawks, Gram Parsons, Neil Young

Fans of the Jayhawks, Gram Parsons and Neil Young should be thrilled with Mark Olson’s new solo recording, Many Colored Kite. In fact, it’s Young’s early solo recordings that this album reminded me the most of. Olson’s deep, country twang, backed with compelling lyrics and solid music bring to mind such albums as After the Gold Rush and Harvest, albums grounded in country and folk, but with rock overtones.

Many Colored Kite is a pastoral affair. Olson has returned to the countryside, using nature as a theme and metaphor for the 11 songs on the album. Whether it’s a song about making it through a difficult time and finding rebirth in the world (“Little Bird of Freedom”), or it’s hopelessly romantic (“Beehive,” “Blue Bell”) or just a celebration of life and nature (“Morning Dove,” “Wind and Rain”), all of the songs are coming from a place of peacefulness in the singer/songwriter.

Music listeners unfamiliar with Olson’s solo output or his work as one of the co-founders of the Jayhawks may be off put by his singing voice upon initial listen. However, after repeated plays the melodies grow on you and create a soothing listening experience. Olson was definitely knee-deep in a ’60s experience when he recorded this collection of songs; you can definitely feel the peace, love and happiness he was experiencing come through in the music. (2010 Rykodisc)

Mark Olson MySpace page
Purchase Many Colored Kite through Amazon

  

The Jayhawks: The Jayhawks


RIYL: Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, pickin’, grinnin’

That squealing sound you hear is the Jayhawks’ steadfastly loyal fan base wetting themselves over the long-overdue release of The Jayhawks, a.k.a. The Bunkhouse Album, on CD. Those who discovered the band with later albums like Tomorrow the Green Grass or Rainy Day Music will be surprised by just how countrified the goings are here. This is clearly Mark Olson’s band – guitarist Gary Louris, who would run the band after Olson’s departure, doesn’t get a single lead vocal here – as the songs contain more pedal steel and banjo than the rest of the band’s catalog combined. It is also, fittingly enough, stuffed with drinking songs, from the bouncy “Misery Tavern” to the cluckity guitar picking on “Six Pack on the Dashboard.” Louris does make his presence felt, though; he contributes several trademark harmony vocals along with his trademark tasteful guitar.

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The end result is, quite frankly, the birth of the alt-country scene that would take shape roughly a decade later. Even those who prefer the pop-oriented Louris years to the folk-driven Olsen era will want to explore this Bunkhouse, stat. (Lost Highway 2010)

The Jayhawks MySpace page
Click to buy The Jayhawks from Amazon

  

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