The Jayhawks

Record Review

Phases and Stages

The Jayhawks

Rainy Day Music (American)

The Jayhawks

Blue Earth (Restless)

For those who discovered the Jayhawks through 2000's sunny Smile, Rainy Day Music may come as a shock. The dense production is gone, replaced by banjos, accordions, and dulcimers. For the Minneapolis-based band's longtime fans, this is cause for rejoicing. At long last, the group has followed up 1991's career high, Hollywood Town Hall. Pared down to a core trio of Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, and Tim O'Reagan, the band hooked up with producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Tift Merritt), and it seems a perfect fit. Johns gives the songs just the right amount of breathing space, recognizing that the band's at its best with harmonies, melodies, acoustic guitars, and little else. Louris handles the majority of the songwriting and appears to have become a pop wizard, tossing off one magic spell after another. These are tunes that would've fit perfectly on Top 40 radio in the Seventies, and as if to prove the point, original Eagle Bernie Leadon makes an appearance. That's not to say that Rainy Day is retro, however. The breezy melodies and easygoing guitar hooks of "Save It for a Rainy Day" and "Come to the River" have a timeless quality that approaches country-rock heaven. Early editions of Rainy Day Music contain a bonus disc comprised of demos, b-sides, and rare live recordings. Louris' live solo rendition of "Waiting for the Sun" makes it worth seeking out. Coincidentally, 1989's Blue Earth, the Jayhawks' second album, has just been given a face lift and three bonus tracks. It's an interesting artifact, displaying the early songwriting talents of Louris and original member Mark Olsen. There's more than a hint of Gram Parsons in Blue Earth's grooves, and the production is rudimentary at best. Still, the album is historically notable for preceding the scene by several years.

(Rainy Day) ***.5

(Blue Earth) ***

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