First Appeared at The Music Box, July 2000, Volume 7, #7
Written by John Metzger
Fans waiting for The Jayhawks to crank out another alt-country album like Hollywood Town Hall or Tomorrow the Green Grass are going to have to wait just a little bit longer — perhaps even forever. Since the departure of Mark Olson in 1996, co-founder Gary Louris has taken control of the band’s direction, leading it towards a more pop-oriented sound.
The Jayhawks’ last outing Sound of Lies was chock-full of gritty rock ’n‘ roll songs with catchy hooks and angry words that cloaked the topic of Olson’s departure behind tales of dying love. The band's latest release Smile is a much more polished affair due to both the production work of Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd’s The Wall) as well as the ensemble's more cheerful and upbeat lyrics and melodies. It’s as if Sound of Lies and the band’s subsequent tour gave Louris a chance to exorcize his demons and move on with his life.
At first listen, Smile can be a bit of a challenge. Like Sound of Lies, it’s different from what has come before it. Yet, one can’t blame The Jayhawks for moving forward. Staying in one place for too long certainly can be a drag. Fortunately, patience and perseverance do indeed pay off for both the band and the listener.
With Smile, Louris and company have created their most pop-oriented album to date. This, of course, is not the sort of stuff written for the pre-teen poseurs of pop music flooding the markets today. Instead, Louris has targeted his influences — those who rode the pop-music radio waves of the ’70s. Where Sound of Lies hinted at the music of Fleetwood Mac and Paul McCartney’s Wings, Smile embraces them. Further, the band delves back into country rock, but this time it does so not from the grungier perspective of Neil Young but from the fluffier fare of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Fueling these comparisons is now departed vocalist/keyboardist Karen Grotberg, whose backing vocals — while reminiscent of Linda McCartney — are delivered with a strength and beauty that is pure Stevie Nicks.
There’s no question that Smile will further alienate some of The Jayhawks’ purists. However, those fans willing to give it a chance will surely find an equally compelling album with the same stellar songwriting skills that the group has always employed. From the uplifting and transcendent title track to the emotionally charged Baby Baby Baby; from the gentle groove of Mr. Wilson to the stunningly beautiful Broken Harpoon; and from the bouncy glide of I’m Gonna Make You Love Me to the soaring and symphonic Queen of the Road, The Jayhawks has created yet another outing of which it can be proud — and that’s surely something about which to smile. ½
Of Further Interest...
Smile is also 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 © 2000 The Music Box