Music Reviews

posted: July 5, 2009

The Jayhawks Latest Music From the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology

American Legacy CD or 2CD/DVD
The Jayhawks Latest

“What if You Made a Classic, and No One Cared?” The New York Times posed in its review of the Jayhawks’ 2000 album Smile. Rhetorical albeit telegraphic, the question could’ve just as easily applied to any of the four records the Minnesota-based band made between 1992 and 2000.

The Jayhawks have officially been disbanded since 2005, by which time co-founding member Mark Olson had since long departed and left Gary Louris the reigns. Of late, the pair has rekindled their creative partnership, recording a fine collaborative album and hitting the road for several intimate tours. The collective is currently showing signs of mulling a comeback, having regrouped for a few recent dates. While most reunions are steeped in the promise of unattainable nostalgia, the overall sense here would be entirely different if only because of the band’s under-the-radar status and fact that its songs haven’t aged. Critically acclaimed and beloved by a cult following, the Jayhawks still remain unknown to far too many listeners.

On par with Uncle Tupelo and featuring one of the best golden-voiced harmonic combinations in music history, the Jayhawks epitomized what is regularly labeled Americana, country-rock, and, worse of the brand-name genres, alt-country. Truth is the ensemble’s range covers all these bases and more, including psychedelic pop, roots folk, and twangy rock. But above all else, the Jayhawks are a classic American band that laid claim to some of the best songwriting, arrangements, and playing of the last few decades.

Proof is on Music From the North Country, a collection that reiterates just how splendid, organic, and timeless the band’s wide-open music remains. Presented in chronological order, selections from the Jayhawks’ six studio efforts overflow with emotion, persuade with conviction, dance with melody, and astonish with consistency. Hearing them today, songs such as the lustrous “Two Angels,” soulful “Waiting for the Sun,” hook-ridden “Clouds,” majestic “I’d Run Away,”  melancholy “The Man Who Loved Life,” insistent “I’m Going to Make You Love Me,” and devotional “Angelyne” flood the mind with emotion, beauty, bliss, and thought. Take your pick-everything here is essential.

The same is almost true for the second disc of rarities and B-sides (14 of the 20 tracks are previously unreleased) that accompanies the deluxe version of the anthology. Whether the reflective “Mission on 2nd” or honky-tonkin’ cover of J.D. Loudermilk’s “Break My Mind,” a radio session rendition of Fred Neil’s jangly “That’s the Bag I’m In” or bluesy Louris gem “In the Canyon,” the material resonates with deep-seeded feeling, unmistakable honesty, and natural grace.

An annotated booklet and bonus DVD complete the deluxe package, necessary for both longtime fans and (hopefully) countless newcomers. The only drawback: No remastering, which would’ve been nice even though the acoustic-minded sonics are warm, present, and pleasing. (Perhaps Sundazed will make this available on LP?) Of course, nothing is perfect, but this comes close.

–Bob Gendron