Rainy Day Music
The Music Box's #2 album for 2003
T.J. Simon's #3 album for 2003
First Appeared at The Music Box, April 2003, Volume 10, #4
Written by John Metzger
The award for most resilient band has to go to The Jayhawks. Frontman Gary Louris was nearly killed in an auto accident as the band’s career was just beginning, and more recently, as it was about to embark on a pre-release promotional tour for its latest album Rainy Day Music, he was stricken with a life-threatening heart infection, which sidelined him for several weeks. Not to mention, the group’s line-up has been in a nearly constant state of flux since its debut in 1986, although its biggest blow came nearly a decade into its existence when co-founder Mark Olson split to pursue a solo career. Still, under the guidance of songwriter and guitarist Louris as well as bass player Marc Perlman, the ensemble has persevered, continuing to tour and record with amazing consistency as if nothing had changed. Its subsequent outings Sound of Lies and Smile explored new ground, turning away from the collective’s original alt-country style towards the pop sounds of The Beatles, Big Star, and The Beach Boys. The usual suspects, however, found fault with Louris for leading The Jayhawks in a new direction, apparently believing an artist must stay within a mold rather than continue to break it. Both Sound of Lies and Smile were terrific, but largely underrated efforts that directly responded, at least musically, to those that close friend Jeff Tweedy was making with Wilco.
Although The Jayhawks’ latest release Rainy Day Music finds the band returning to its acoustic-tinged, country-influenced roots, it’s clear that Louris and company never would have gotten here had they not traversed the ground of the group’s last two outings. For certain, there’s little doubt that the album will be heralded by some as a welcome return to The Jayhawks' alt-country beginnings, and there’s certainly no question that the buoyant, countryfied bounce of songs like Save It for a Rainy Day and Angelyne will surely put smiles upon the faces of those who have strayed in recent years. Indeed, there are vast portions of Rainy Day Music that retread some of the same ground as the band’s most popular albums, most notably Tomorrow the Green Grass. Even the influence of David Bowie that burst through that effort’s Nothing Left to Borrow is resurrected here on Don’t Let the World Get in Your Way, albeit in an entirely different manner.
Nevertheless, Rainy Day Music should not be viewed with such a singular vision. The album is much broader in scope than many are initially apt to realize, and what is revisited also is reshaped and perfected in ways not possible without the personal pilgrimage the band has had to endure. Consider this all to be part of the genius of this latest chapter in The Jayhawks’ great American novel. The music is familiar enough to draw in the listener, but where one winds up is often not where one expects. For this outing, Louris kept his pop-fueled yearnings a bit more subtle and subdued than in the past, and yet he still managed to create an album that shows growth rather than regression, perhaps as a way of challenging his critics to see the light.
The title track from Sound of Lies was filled with harmonies straight from Crosby, Stills, & Nash, and this influence is even more pervasive on Rainy Day Music. A song such as All the Right Reasons opens like something from Hollywood Town Hall, but before one knows it, vocals merge together, first recalling The Eagles, then shifting towards CSN. Likewise, percussion boils underneath Madman as acoustic and pedal steel guitars lap at the tune’s edges, while on Come to the River, an electric guitar slips and slides with sinewy exultation. And, for the record, that is the sound of former Eagle Bernie Leadon’s banjo plucking its way through Stumbling through the Dark. Even Matthew Sweet and Jakob Dylan drop in to provide some backing vocals.
Make no mistake — Rainy Day Music is hardly a classic rock revival either. Instead, Louris continues to mine the past in order to make music for the present — music that only can be defined as that of The Jayhawks. His knack at merging melody and lyric is simply beyond reproach, and his songs reach out to audiences with vastly different tastes. He’s finally found a way to broaden alt-country’s horizons, without alienating its often closed-minded fans. More importantly, he’s crafted an album that even those that worship Hollywood Town Hall will have to embrace as The Jayhawks’ second coming.
Of Further Interest...
Rainy Day Music 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!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box