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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… The Jayhawks April 3, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Here’s a group – no doubt familiar to many of you – that was one of those that forged alt.country, a shining moment where a disparate but countryish tinged selection of musicians produced a take on country that was both fresh and reasonably innovative. Wilco, Josh Rouse, Lambchop, The Handsome Family, Calexico and many more, including of course the Jayhawks, who in some respects to my ears sounded purest of them all. That’s not entirely true of course – but they are my ears. Or perhaps what I mean is that they sounded least pretentious.

My two favourite albums of theirs are Tomorrow the Green Grass and the Sound of Lies, both from the mid-1990s. Interestingly they’re not recorded with precisely the same line ups. Mark Olsen left the band to Gary Louris after TtGG, in part to spend more time with his then wife Victoria Williams – who is also famous in her own right and, political note, an example of how healthcare reform in the US has a human face. And oddly, though there’s something special about the Sound of Lies it is the earlier album I return to more often.

I think it’s fair to say that there was always a melancholy aspect to their sound, partially from the vocals, partially from the songs themselves. But to say that that was all they had (or have, given that they appear to have reformed in the last year or so) would be to do them a significant disservice.

There’s a rockyish power to songs such as the remarkable “Ten Little Kids”, or even “I’d Run Away”. But it is rock cross fertilised with so much more. You may hear hints of Neil Young, or Big Star or all those and none of them. Where a previous generation of musicians, the Long Ryders come to mind, approached the issue of revitalising country with something approach a punky energy – albeit an energy distilled through the shade Gram Parsons, the 1990s saw a somewhat softer approach, perhaps again one rooted more in the near power pop of Big Star, and yet also referencing – possibly even more explicitly – Parsons, although that’s hard to believe in the case of Sid Griffin!. I think both are effective in different ways.

While Wilco remain up there, as indeed does the supergroup project Golden Smog (sadly almost no songs from their excellent Weird Tales are available on YouTube) I think The Jayhawks slightly shade them. Again, perhaps it’s their authenticity, or perhaps it’s simply that the combination of vocals and guitars produces something greater than the sum of the parts.


Addendum: Doing a bit of background on this I discovered that Vic Chestnutt died in December. Another huge loss, to add to Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse last month which Conor on Dublin Opinion covered eloquently.

I’d run away (footage from Manhattan from Woody Allen)


Two Hearts (Live) – the chorus, just listen to that chorus…

Pray for Me – a Byrdsy moment… (the video is… entertaining… particular kudos for the eagle).

Real Light (Live)

Ten LIttle Kids (Live)


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