The Jayhawks - Hollywood Town Hall

The Jayhawks
Hollywood Town Hall

(American/Legacy)

First Appeared in The Music Box, February 2011, Volume 18, #2

Written by John Metzger

Wed February 16, 2011, 06:30 AM CST

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Tomorrow the Green Grass gets more attention, while the efforts that The Jayhawks made after Mark Olson walked away from the project — Sound of Lies, Smile, and Rainy Day Music, among them — were never fully appreciated by either the group’s fans or the press. The Jayhawks’ crowning achievement, however, will always be Hollywood Town Hall. Perfect in every way, it not only is one of the best albums to emerge from the alt-country movement, but it also is one of the strongest outings to be issued in the 1990s.

Recently expanded, Hollywood Town Hall now features five additional tracks: The hard-hitting Leave No Gold, the driving country tune Keith and Quentin, and the joyous, gospel-imbued glow of Up Above My Head are all making their debut on this side of the Atlantic. The bouncy Warm River and the gently shimmering, demo-quality Mother Trust You to Walk to the Store serve as previously unreleased outtakes from the recording sessions for the endeavor. These selections retain the ferocity that drove the original album. Including them in the initial offering, however, would have been redundant within the overall flow of Hollywood Town Hall. Still, there is no doubt that they all were strong enough to have made the final cut.

Perhaps the biggest revelation to be provided by the latest installment of Hollywood Town Hall stems from its liner notes. As detailed in an essay by producer George Drakoulias, the collection wasn’t recorded live in the studio. Instead, it was painstakingly assembled, piece by piece. Nothing, it seems, went as planned, as several drummers along with a pair of legendary keyboard players — Nicky Hopkins and Benmont Tench — were brought on board to contribute to the project. Yet, for as many times as The Jayhawks performed its songs, Hollywood Town Hall hardly sounds like the result of a labor-intensive process. Instead, the group’s hunger to break away from its Minneapolis home is apparent at every turn. The Jayhawks was ready to take on the world, and its strength was undiminished by the reiterative recording sessions it had endured.

The inclusion of Hopkins and Tench was nothing short of brilliant. Understated yet richly textured, their contributions simultaneously played key roles in shaping the music without overpowering The Jayhawks’ essence. Tench brought the saving grace of gospel to many of the set’s tracks as well as a mournful country swagger to tunes like Waiting for the Sun, while Hopkins leant crystalline sorrow to Two Angels and Martin’s Song. Recognizing how vital a keyboard player had become to its work, The Jayhawks added Karen Grotberg to its roster in order to tour behind the endeavor.

Nevertheless, at its core, The Jayhawks has always fared best when the partnership between Olson and Louris was firing on all cylinders. Their collaborative approach was, perhaps, never in better shape than during the making of Hollywood Town Hall. Throughout the set, their voices blended as if they were siblings, bending and responding to each other in ways that not only filled their lyrics with emotion and meaning, but also made their melodies even more indelible.

In hindsight, it has become apparent that Olson typically followed a roots-oriented approach, while Louris favored a power-pop framework. Together, however, they essentially combined 1970s-era Rolling Stones with The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo. At the same time, though, it also is possible to hear a myriad of other influences — from the Louvin Brothers and the Flying Burrito Brothers to Jefferson Airplane and Neil Young — circling through The Jayhawks’ material.

Laying feisty guitar licks over organic grooves, The Jayhawks conjured big, buoyant songs that masked vulnerability and longing behind a brawny sense of determination to survive. Yet, despite the fact that its characters were in a constant state of motion — a reflection, no doubt, of the band’s tireless touring schedule — the feelings of sorrow, regret, and loneliness that surface repeatedly throughout Hollywood Town Hall are impossible to escape. In The Jayhawks’ hands, sadness sounded alluring and also packed a punch. starstarstarstarstar

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Of Further Interest...

Ryan Adams - Cold Roses

Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love

Lucinda Williams - Little Honey

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Hollywood Town Hall is available from
Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!

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Ratings

1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!

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Copyright © 2011 The Music Box