Published for http://www.13thfloor.co.nz
The Jayhawks are the original alternative country band and quite possibly the template for all that have come after: Uncle Tupelo & Wilco, Honeydogs, R.E.M, Golden Smog, Au Pair, Band of Horses, et al. Emerging from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & Minnesota) music scene during the mid-1980s they’ve put out a bunch of influential several studio albums and have stopped and started several times over the years, notably a hiatus between 2004-9. Most recently the group reformed (2014) to play some shows reunited but after the tour, founding member Mark Olson left because of a strained relationship with another founding member Gary Louris. Despite this, late last year they announced they were recording a new album, produced by REM’s Peter Buck, as a follow up to their last reunification effort Mockingbird TimeI (2011).
Sadly, Olson doesn’t return this time but long term fans shouldn’t be dismayed. For disc no.9 everything is as it should be. There’s a quality mix of modest, gentle and approachable music here, save for the very Wilco like Ace, where Louris ambushes us with a cacophonic guitar squall over an exceptionally funky 80’s groove loop. Lost the Summer is their best jump back to the 70’s (Why this didn’t make the soundtrack of TV series Vinyl is a total mystery). Whilst not specifically a nostalgic effort, there are some references to the early albums here and there, especially their self-titled debut (1986) and Blue Earth (1989), mixed with just a faint whiff of digital progress. You can hear that all clearly on the drum machine percussion of Pretty Roses in Your Hair and the adult grunge on Comeback Kids (just a hint of sarcasm there, too). With Buck on the controls, the REM influence had to seep in somewhere. The instantly familiar dark groove of Lies in Black and White is a total giveaway. Who beget who is unclear. But who cares anyway? With a band that’s travelled the parallel paths of indie and commercialism through umpteen genre changes and revivals you’d expect at least a few concessions and that comes on The Devil Is In Her Eyes, which could have been lifted straight out of Neil Young’s Heart of Gold session, right down to the harmonica squeals.
Ok, so this is not a ground breaking record, but it is a good one. If you want to splash out on a vinyl pressing, I’d recommend it. It has just enough of that mid-80’s aura about it. The kind of stuff Fables of the New Construction, The River and even Runnin’ on Empty had. And as we all know Buck’s a vinyl nut, so the sound has a warm, valve-amp quality to it. It belongs in a collection where it can be inhaled slowly with a couple of brews and a Sunday paper. Not quite ‘Dad rock’ but close enough.