Saturday, October 1, 2011


As the first notes of Hide Your Colors come, its obvious The Jayhawks are back, and not in the usual lame reunion sense.  Those two voices, raised again, Gary Louris and Mark Olson, it is special.  Certainly they are among the very best harmony singers ever, and the only others on that list are siblings.  One of the very best moments on the accompanying DVD on the deluxe addition is in the documentary, where they explain how they do the harmonies, and how their voices blend.  It is certainly the magic of this band, what sets them above so many others.  When the two of them started doing these incredible vocals, partly in harmony and partly in unison, for Hollywood Town Hall, they went from unknowns to the next buzz band.

But then Olson quit after the next album, Tomorrow The Green Grass, to go live in the desert and be a solo guy.  Louris-led, The Jayhawks subsequent discs were actually pretty darn good, but once you lose a core member, it's never the same.  And it's impossible to go back.  Well, until now.  This blows all the theories.  After 15 years apart, you just assume there's no way they can put it back together.  It's really like Olson never left.  Song after song, everything is there, including top-rate material.  Again, watching the documentary, it's a shock to see how casually they take the craft.  They just do it, they write songs, they sing them like that, it's no big deal, if they want to do it, they do it.

Obviously if there was any animosity about the parting, it's long gone.  Olson and Louris have even recorded and toured together since, but after that duo disc didn't sit well with fans, with its folk feel, they figured they might as well do the Jayhawks thing again, they always liked it anyway.  Olson has long admitted he should have just taken a short break from the band anyway.  Of course, everyone is going to focus on his return, but the other part of the equation is the return of the best version of the band, with drummer Tim O'Reagan, bassist Marc Pearlman, and keyboard player Karen Grotberg.  She's the biggest surprise when you start listening closely, adding an important third harmony to many choruses.

I'm just going to dispense with the usual "solid return to form" statements, and instead opine that this is the equal of their very best work, and indeed, start-to-finish, might be their very best album.  About all that's missing is one overall amazing song, no Waiting For The Sun, Blue, or I'd Run Away, but several come close, and every cut is a keeper.  It's also a good idea to pick up the deluxe version, for the documentary, and four live videos, three new-in-the-studio ones, and a vintage 1985 recording of King Of Kings.  I also just noticed on their website you can download free band-approved bootlegs, so I'm going over there now.

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