Hidden Secrets, Complex Stories and Charming Alt. Country Melodies.
I’ve had a troubled relationship with the Jayhawks over the years. Originally; via Hollywood Town Hall they were one of my ‘gateway’ bands towards what we now lovingly call Alt. Country, and not long afterwards I bought Tomorrow, The Green Grass, which for many years was a ‘go to’ album whenever the mood took me.
Then a couple of years later I saw them play on what must have been the Rainy Days Tour and, well ……. the dynamic had changed, for me.
But by then I was reviewing for magazines and a newspaper, so I had more than enough ‘new music’ to make me forget my ‘past love’.
Leap forward to 2014 and The Jayhawks were headlining SummerTyne Festival and I excitedly turned up, hoping to rekindle my musical love affair. Sadly I walked out after four or five songs. I forget why; but this wasn’t the Jayhawks I’d once been in love with all those years ago ……. the jaunty Americana/Country tunes I’d so adored were replaced with *miserabilsm of a type I didn’t need in my life at that time.
So, it was with tempered excitement that I pressed play on the car stereo last week ………. hmm, the sad and lonely acoustic guitar that opens Forgotten Town made my heart sink…….. but, when Gary Louris’s distinctive, world weary voice entered the fray and a band that seems to have corralled the best of Poco and, dare I say it ……. the early Eagles join him in on a maudlin song of infinite beauty! Even if nothing else matches the quality of this opening song, The Jayhawks may have just invented Alt. Alt-Country!
The guitars are slung low and tempo cranked up high on track #2 Dogtown Days ……….. all I can say is …….. the gang is back in town and on a mission!
I have no idea what has preceded XOXO in the last twenty years or so; and don’t really care; as these new songs are absolutely timeless, with Bitter Pill and Down To The Farm as well as the complex, Beatles influenced Illuminate all sounding like they could and should have been on an album that followed Tomorrow, The Green Grass, yet still sound as contemporary and edgy as anything their prodigies have released in the last twelve months.
When I say ‘timeless’ I mean it in a way that these songs, in all their ragged glory will appeal to fresh faced teenagers as well as their grey haired Grandparents, who were buying vinyl when it was the only format available in buildings we used to call shops.
There’s just so much to like here; not least Karen Grotberg’s songs; especially when she purrs her heart out on Across My Field and the tragically beautiful Ruby, which leaves me open mouthed every time I play it.
Before I get to my Favourite Song here; my copy has three ‘Bonus Tracks’ which; for once actually sound like they should be included on every copy; especially Karen’s haunting The Jewel of the Trimbelle and the stunning duet between Karen and Gary, Hypocrite’s Lament which is actually a contender for the title of Favourite Song; but as it might not appear on your copy is excluded from the race.
For my actual Favourite Track I’ve been torn between what will be the album ‘closer’ the powerfully evocative and love lorn Looking Up Your Number and the song title which made me smile; the cynical Living in a Bubble which is actually as apt in 2020 Britain as you’d hope the title would live up to; and it does.
So, with the toss of a coin I’m going for the rolling and rocking Living In a Bubble as it not just appeals to my sense of humour and musical tastes but to some degree, is a song that needed to be written …… and Gary Louris should be applauded for doing just that.
It’s a week after first playing this album, and I’ve discovered and uncovered many nuances and hidden secrets in most of the songs here, which have all evolved like butterflies from their chrysalis’s.
Perhaps ‘absence really does make the heart grow fonder’; but I think I’ve now fallin’ in love with The Jayhawks all over again.
PS Were I in a record shop, the cover alone would have intrigued me enough to want to hear the contents; and it certainly does live up to the artwork.
Released July 10th 2020
*Subsequently two friends who were there that night have totally squashed my ‘memory’ and praised the gig to high heaven …… perhaps it was me and not the band who were miserable that night?