Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology
First Appeared in The Music Box, August 2009, Volume 16, #8
Written by John Metzger
Tue August 11, 2009, 06:30 AM CDT
The Jayhawks always seemed to be on the brink of a major breakthrough. Yet, on a national scale, the group never managed to find the levels of critical and commercial success that it deserved. Not only was it routinely overshadowed by many of its contemporaries, but it also never escaped the alt-country tag that was placed upon it in the wake of its sterling third effort Hollywood Town Hall in 1992. Without a doubt, the release of a career-spanning retrospective that is devoted to The Jayhawks’ canon has been long overdue. To this end, Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology is quite a welcome sight. Now that Mark Olson and Gary Louris have rekindled their collaborative partnership — and, more recently, reignited the vintage version of the outfit that also featured Marc Perlman, Tim O’Reagan, and Karen Grotberg — it seems as if the collection couldn’t have come a moment too soon.
Not surprisingly, Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology largely confirms what fans of The Jayhawks already knew: Over the course of seven albums, which spanned 17 years, the Minneapolis-based band covered an enormous amount of ground. On Old Woman from Red Clay, for example, the ensemble borrowed from the likes of Crosby, Stills and Nash as well as The Mamas and The Papas, while Two Angels, the song it subsequently spawned, also incorporated a touch of Neil Young-ian harmonica. Meanwhile, centered around an explosive, guitar-based jam, Get the Load Out explored the amplified side of Young’s legacy. Elsewhere, Stone Cold Mess was pure Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, and tracks like Smile and What Led Me to This Town were constructed upon the lush, Los Angeles-brewed pop of Fleetwood Mac.
Like most young bands, The Jayhawks’ early days were marked by a period of rapid growth. Yet, instead of settling into a routine, the outfit grew increasingly restless, particularly after Olson departed to work on solo projects with Victoria Williams, his wife at the time. Left to his own devices, Louris transformed the roots-oriented textures that had fueled The Jayhawks’ initial endeavors into the brash and edgy rock ’n‘ roll of cuts like Big Star before he fell back into the acoustic-oriented framework of the group’s most recent effort Rainy Day Music. Although its output eventually came full-circle, the only way to truly present an overview of The Jayhawks’ canon is to approach the tunes from a chronological perspective. Sure enough, the careful construction of Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology perfectly highlights the threads that have bound each of the collective’s albums to its successor, allowing the broad range of the ensemble’s output to make a lot more sense.
No matter where The Jayhawks happened to roam, whether it was dabbling in country or sampling from pop, the band consistently centered its songs around sparkling melodies and tightly knit harmonies. If the 20 cuts featured on the first half of Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology don’t make the group’s unwavering focus on these facets of its style readily apparent, then a comparison between Someone Will and the tune’s eventual reincarnation as I’m Gonna Make You Love Me certainly should. Essentially, The Jayhawks’ realized that the former track was lacking a memorable chorus, so it redoubled its efforts and crafted one that completely changed the track’s prevailing mood.
Even for those who have closely monitored The Jayhawks’ career, Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology features a host of revelations. Packed with 40 songs, half of which are B-sides, outtakes, and demo recordings, the outing traces a winding path through the collective’s ever-shifting textural arrangements. In the end, with so many well-crafted, instantly engaging, and highly memorable compositions, one can’t help but to wonder why in the world The Jayhawks didn’t find greater fame and fortune. With a little luck, Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology will correct this egregious oversight. ½
Of Further Interest...
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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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