First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2011, Volume 18, #9
Written by John Metzger
Thu December 15, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
The reunion of Gary Louris and Mark Olson, along with the rest of The Jayhawksí lineup circa 1995, was bound to happen sooner or later. Not only did the group seem poised for greater exposure, but also, in the wake of the release of Tomorrow the Green Grass, it appeared as if it finally was beginning to gain traction. While Olsonís abrupt departure from The Jayhawks was understandable, his frustration over the outfitís lack of commercial success peaked at precisely the wrong moment. Perhaps, a little more patience on his part might have been warranted.
For certain, the only variable that seemed to stand in the way of a full-blown reconciliation of The Jayhawks was the terms of the arrangement. Over the years, Louris retained the groupís name. Although on Sound of Lies he initially lashed out at Olsonís decision to leave, Louris subsequently sought to strike a balance between his love of power pop and The Jayhawksí roots-oriented beginnings. Meanwhile, Olson delved deeper into folk- and country-oriented fare in collaboration with Victoria Williams. As their marriage began collapse, he tentatively explored the possibility of reconnecting with Louris.
Arguably, both Louris and Olson fared reasonably well on their own. Nevertheless, their collaborations ó most notably on Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass ó remain the highlights of their careers. However, the journey back from their separation came slowly. A song ó Say Youíll Be Mine from Olsonís Decemberís Child ó led to a pair of brief tours together. By 2008, Olson and Louris had put the finishing touches on Ready for the Flood, an acoustic-oriented endeavor that seemed to lend credence to the theory that Louris was willing to make significant concessions to Olson in order to reestablish their creative partnership.
Breaking an eight-year silence that began after the release of Rainy Day Music, Mockingbird Time is the first album by The Jayhawks since Tomorrow the Green Grass in 1995 to feature both Olson and Louris. Interestingly, Louris and Olson resisted the urge to recreate their heyday. Instead of merely slipping into the past, Mockingbird Time draws a line through everything that Olson and Louris have done in collaboration and on their own. With this in mind, it is difficult not to think that the outing just might be Olsonís response to Louris ó that is, a way for him to fulfill his part of the agreement.
The Jayhawks has always made albums that were relatively easy to embrace, which is why it is so strange that the group hasnít become more popular. Considerably less digestible than its predecessors, Mockingbird Time contrasts sharply with the rest of the bandís catalogue, largely because there are a lot of conflicting voices vying for attention within the albumís songs. More often than not, Louris wins the battle, bringing a Big Star-like ambience to the proceedings. On High Water Blues and Hey Mr. Man, the homage is overt. Elsewhere, it is felt simply within The Jayhawksí mishmash approach: the Beatle-esque flourishes that surround the Americana-imbued pop of Hide Your Colors and Closer to Your Side, for example, as well as the fusion of Neil Young with The Mamas and the Papas and Jefferson Airplane on Stand Out in the Rain and Cinnamon Love, respectively.
Admittedly, the challenges that Mockingbird Time presents to fans of The Jayhawks dissipate with time. Nevertheless, this doesnít change the fact that the album is often too fussy for its own good. Two tracks in particular ó She Walks in So Many Ways and Pouring Rain at Dawn ó stand out from the rest of the set, simply because they magnify how far The Jayhawks managed to veer off its course. Where the bulk of Mockingbird Time is filled with complexity, these songs assume an easy-going ebb and flow. Ultimately, they feel as natural and effortless as anything in the bandís canon. As for the rest of Mockingbird Time, it certainly has its moments, even if the material doesnít always click. Ĺ
Of Further Interest...
Mockingbird Time is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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