This isn’t, of course, a new Jayhawks album. No, it most certainly is not, not even close.
News flash: Ready for the Flood is even more thrilling. A sparse affair nonetheless operatic in scope, Mark Olson and Gary Louris’ first studio collaboration in 13 years freewheels gleefully like the Farrar-Tweedy side project that never will be. Creative tension clearly fuels its ambition. In fact, while Olson and Louris don’t entirely forsake the Jayhawks’ familiar jangle (“The Rose Society” and the highway snapshot “Chamberlain, SD,” for example), the album’s high-watermarks lurch eagerly toward folkier ground.
Maturity charters the roadmap. “I think both of us have lived a lot since the Jayhawks,” Louris said in a recent interview. “We’ve gone through our own chapters of our lives. We just are a little older-I don’t know if we’re wiser – and I feel like the music we make isn’t punk rock, it’s not kid rock, you know? It’s like stuff that gets almost better with experience.” Indeed, only towns left behind and love wasted could dictate the haunted gratitude of “My Gospel Song For You.”
Despite Louris’ self-deprecation, there’s plenty of wisdom here. “What the mind forgets, the soul retains,” the pair sings to each other on “Bloody Hands,” their echo of reconciliation broadening its resonance. “All my love’s in vain.” Like that flowing narrative, exquisite minimalist studies like “Turn Your Pretty Name Around,” “Saturday Morning on Sunday Street” and “Black Eyes” achieve transcendence beyond the wheat and wind. Picture a humble plateau at the crossroads of A.P. Carter and David Crosby. (Tip: Check out Murry Hammond’s I Don’t Know Where I’m Going, But I’m on My Way for a similarly successful reference point.)
Producer Chris Robinson thoughtfully leaves few thumbprints. But when the Black Crowes’ frontman does-say, on “Bicycle,” its teardrops the sweetest south of George Harrison-bold accents are necessary. Olson and Louris’ storytelling, though, demands primary attention. “All this pain is gone, baby, it’s all gone,” Olson sings on the closing “The Trap’s Been Set.” “I’m getting ready for the flood/I’m falling in the moment of love.” More, please.