5 out of 5 Stars
4 out of 5 Stars
4 out of 5 Stars
With the roots music explosion of the last decade, it’s past time to reappraise The Jayhawks, one of the pioneer bands of the genre. By reissuing their late career renaissance through the record trilogy of Sound of Lies, Smile, and Rainy Day Music, it once again becomes clear just how influential and genre-bending a group the Jayhawks were in their prime.
In the mid-‘90s, co-founder Mark Olson had moved onto a solo career, and so co-founder Gary Louris transformed his group’s musical vision. No longer were the Jayhawks following Olson’s folk/country instincts and the stoic Americana of the Midwest. Louris instead guided his bandmates toward a more experimental kind of music, blending his Brit-Invasion pop-inflected roots with a lusher, psychedelic sound.
If the Jayhawks’ early career peaks, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass, reflect a grainier monochromatic depth, then Sound of Lies embodies Technicolor vision, writ large. It’s still my favorite Jayhawks record, and from its panoramic, opening tone-setter, “The Man Who Loved Life,” to the haunting, weary title cut, the songs spill forth in imaginative textures and glorious melodies.
With sole leadership of the band, Louris blooms, and his songwriting takes on a more dynamic, aggressive approach. Think mid-period Beatles, say Revolver, and a similar spurt of fertile growth echoes through this trilogy. It’s a joy to hear the sheer, crunchy exuberance of “Big Star.” Between Louris’s reinvigorated lead guitar and the fresh harmonies of new members, keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan, The Jayhawks reach for and achieve a new career high. Country rock no more–this feels more expansive and charged: electric 12-string heartbreak and harmonies firing on all cylinders.
Smile continues this transformation, but goes even further in its eclectic sound. With its radio-friendly pop sheen produced by Bob Ezrin, it’s ironically the Jayhawks’ most commercial release—and yet at the same time—their most provocative record.
The title track is a beaut: day-glo washes of harmony and reverb stacked to the sky–a sunshine anthem shot through with blue blasts of melancholy, Brian Wilson territory. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” should have been a major contender on radio, its chiming chorus rings out like a lost, vintage power-pop nugget from the ’70s. Mechanized drum loops infiltrate weaker songs like “Somewhere in Ohio,” and you can almost hear hardcore Jayhawk fans gasping in protest at the creeping electronica. Bonus reissue songs, such as “A Part of You” and “Great Garbo,” showcase their abundance of quality songs.
Rainy Day Music closes out this stirring trilogy in spare, rustic tones steeped in brilliant songwriting. Acoustic guitars and gentle CSN-like harmonies dominate deep cuts such as “All the Right Reasons.” Tim O’Reagan still provides a strong counterpoint to Louris here with harmonies and several worthy song contributions such as the hushed, travelogue reverie, “Tampa to Tulsa.”
With new liner notes and loaded extra tracks, the Jayhawks’ set of reissues reminds us this vital band’s enduring value. Pop classicism has rarely sounded as graceful and compelling as this classic trilogy.