Wednesday, September 28, 2011

CD Review: The Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time

The Jayhawks' trademark sound was based on the harmonies of joint songwriters and frontmen Mark Olson and Gary Louris. It's sixteen years since they recorded together under the Jayhawks moniker, eight since the band sans Olson released a studio album and three since the two of them recorded the (under appreciated) Ready for the Flood album as a duo. So the reunion album Mockingbird Time  has been much anticipated by the band's long-standing followers.

Before the release of the new album they professed the ambition to be the band who produced their best album work later in their career and that Mockingbird Time would be it. This was always going to be a tall order, the more so as their 1992 release Hollywood Town Hall was not only a masterpiece in its own right, but also highly influential, indeed genre-defining.

And so it proves. While Mockingbird Time recaptures the band's classic sound as if a natural successor to Tomorrow the Green Grass, the last Jayhawks album to feature Louris and Olson, this time the songs are not quite there. In particular, the limitations present in Olson's solo work are in evidence here - I liken him to Stephen Stills, writing songs that are worthy and workmanlike but rarely memorable.

One of the things that made the Jayhawks interesting to listen to was the way their songs never went for the obvious hooks (perhaps this is why they never had a hit), but spun off in unexpected directions. That is still the case here, but there is a shortage of good tunes.

This is not to say this is a bad album - the band are too professional in their songwriting and musicianship for that to be the case. The Byrds-influenced 'She walks in so many ways' will be an automatic choice for any future 'Best of' compilations, while Louris's 'Pouring rain at dawn' captures the spirit of wistfulness that is present in all the Jayhawks' best work.

And none of the songs here are weak or embarrassing, it's just that for the most part they are a bit off the pace. One or two reviews I have read suggest that this is an album that grows on you, and perhaps that will be the case. But anyone looking for an introduction to the Jayhawks should still start with Hollywood Town Hall. And for contemporary work in the same vein, try the outstanding Nothing is Wrong by the California band Dawes, who sound like they have listened to a Jayhawks album or two in their time.

1 comment:

Shamus said...

it totally grows on you. I'm surprised at the pensive reviews. this is as good as anything they've put out. Now if you don't like them in the first place fine, but Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass are generally considered classics. Well this is like finding a message in a bottle from some lost genius band from 1992.