Archive for The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks’ “Mockingbird Time” Is A Most Unusual Comeback

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 22, 2011 by johnbuckley100

Bands break up and bands reform, but it’s unusual to have a group’s founder turn over the keys to his fellow guitarist, songwriting pal and co-harmonizer, who in turn drives the music to new heights, only to have the Prodigal Folkie return and pick up right where they all left off sixteen years ago.

We loved The Jayhawks when Gary Louris was able to stretch his ample frame and take them from their roots-rock ghetto into being more of a classical Americana rock band, loved Smile and especially Rainy Day Music.  We loved that he no longer had to make room for Mark Olson’s quite different approach — loved that Louris could focus on riffs and hooks, self-harmonizing and gorgeous.  But damn if their reformation doesn’t seem to take the best of original band’s charms — their earnest evocation of the second side of Exile On Main Street, their Roger McGuinn sensibilities — and match it nicely with what Louris was doing when only his hands were on the wheel.

It was odd enough, though of course a clue giving hope to the original band’s fervent followers, that in the final phase of the break up period, circa 2008, Louris and Olson made an album together, like a divorced couple going on vacation.  The attraction clearly was still there, and on the superb “Bicycle,” we got a glimmer, a taste of what life might be like if the whole band pedaled together. In the annals of rock’n’roll, Louris has a unique ego, willing to share leadership with the man who’d turned it over to him in the back half of the 1990s.

And then this summer came “She Walks In So Many Ways,” with its chiming, Byrdsy Rickenbacker chords, and the sound of Louris and Olson harmonizing, the one voice tacking straight to the horizon (Olson), the other aiming for the sky (Gary Louris.) I remember hearing it come on the radio out West on a bright July afternoon, followed by Wilco’s “I Might,” and thinking that the Minneapolis band had a clear smack down over the boys from Chicago.  And now comes Mockingbird Time and it is almost entirely wonderful.

It begins powerfully, with the throbbing, declarative “Hide Your Colors,” Karen Grotberg’s rollicking piano underneath strings and a George Wilbury guitar solo.  And you immediately welcome back the status quo ante, the pre-Louris-led band.  By the time you’ve listened to “She Walks In So Many Ways” (for the thousandth time, since no doubt you’ve been playing it over and over), and get into the infectious “High Water Blues,” the old enthusiasms return, and with it the hope that this fine American band get, not just the recognition it deserves — it is widely recognized as a national gem, the Jayhawks certainly aren’t lacking in respect — but that it assume its rightful place in the top ranks of American bands.

The return of Mark Olson to the Jayhawks is like hearing a Midwest factory is back to full employment, that an orphaned language has regained a speaker.  Louris’ making room for him is a profile in musical courage.

Welcome back.

Calexico Find The Treasure In “Carried To Dust”

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on September 15, 2008 by johnbuckley100

It’s a warm September evening and you’re driving straight thru from Canyonlands to Tucson. Over there in the eastern part of the sky, the moon’s beginning to rise above one of Monument Valley’s spires, maybe the East Mitten.  And of course, the only band you possibly could be playing on the 8 Track in your ’73 Camaro is Calexico.

If, last time around, you wondered what happened to the Mariachi brass, the Keenan-Wynn-in-a-Mexican-bar guitar, that’s because “Garden Ruin” was aimed smack dab in the wrong direction, towards Kansas. In other words, Jayhawks country.  But this time, Joey Burns doesn’t stray far from the saguaro, which by the way, recently got Federal protection, as should Calexico, just for being a national damn treasure.

“”Carried To Dust” is the best thing they’ve ever done, either for themselves, or the many friends they’ve backed up — Neko Case, Iron und Wine, just to name a few.  It’s a real contender for Tulip Frenzy’s album of the year.  Either 2008, the year in which it was released, or 1974, the year it feels like. Here’s why it qualifies: It’s perfect.  That’s a technical rock reviewer blogger term.  Perfect.

Makes you think of the kid in Blood Meridian — the book, not the band — with his boots covered in blood, underneath the evening redness in the West.  Makes you think of Blood Meridian — the band, not the book — with their boots covered in blood, playing on the stage in front of you.

Alternately gorgeous melodies, that spooky Tex-Mex guitar line underneath the brass, and John Convertino’s drumming holding everything together so delicately in this region where one wrong move means death from dehydration, rattlesnakes, bad hombres, you name it. And then there’s the stuff that stuns, the way the sunshine does when you’ve wandered off the trail and the Green River’s still way over there.  Plus, they’ve got Pieta Brown singing on “Slowness.”  Maybe enough said.  After all, in the desert West, there’s not a lot of talking. 

If Ed Abbey were still with us — and the world would be a better place for it: can you imagine how he would have howled at the Sarah Palin pick?  But we digress.  If Ed Abbey were still alive, these guys would be the house band at his Tucson beer bashes.  Yeah, they’re that good.

%d bloggers like this: