Monday, November 07, 2011
Emerging quietly from hiatus, the Jayhawks came back with their mid-90s lineup in place to play some shows in 2009. Mark Olson, who had left the group in 1995, has returned to the fold. Mockingbird Time marks the first, full length Jayhawks recording since Tomorrow the Green Grass with Olson and Gary Louris collaborating. Despite the tepid reviews that I have read, to these ears at least, this is a solid set of songs.
What in the name of fuck do people want? We are subjected to a ton of the most objectionable garbage that has ever poisoned the airwaves on a daily basis and a few hipsters complain that the Jayhawks "didn't make their best album ever, per their claims prior to its issue". On the contrary, they have written songs with great changes, played with feeling and topped by two-part harmonies that soar. In a time where one note shit, with gimmicky noises and phony, processed vocals rule the musical landscape, people should be falling over themselves to welcome something real.
While not as uniformly excellent as Tomorrow the Green Grass, there is still quite a bit to celebrate. Most all of the selections deliver in terms of melody, arrangement and the vocals of Louris and Olson blend effortlessly. Sonically, their harmonies have a slightly melancholic quality, though this never overwhelms the program. Their voices still sound magical when paired.
Tying things together beautifully are the deft keyboard touches of Karen Grotberg. Her contributions to the music supply a ton of personality and would be greatly missed if taken out of the mix. There are a few attempts to bring electric guitars to the fore, though a gentler, more introspective mood prevails. My only request would be to trim the running time on a couple of songs and remove the title cut. It is the only one in the pack that seems to strain to find something to say, fails and would have best been left for a future box set.
Standout tracks include "Hide Your Colors", "Tiny Arrows" (shades of CSNY), "She Walks In So Many Ways" and the excellent closer "Hey Mr. Man". Repeated listening will be required, but there's enough diversity with forays into folk, esoteric 60s rock and country to maintain interest. The playing is impeccable, atmospheric strings provide depth and color to several tunes, and the hooks are subtle though once they set up camp in your brain they do not let go. Why this band has never really broken big is a mystery to me.
Strong, engaging and undeserving of some of the critical stick it has received, Mockingbird Time will hold up well down the road. Long after the contrived, overly sugared pop confections of 2011 leave people with an upset stomach and nothing more, thoughtful music with soul will be waiting to sweep you up in its charms when you're ready.
The Jayhawks are touring the US currently. Get out and see them if you have a chance.