Mark Olson's first proper solo album, 2007's The Salvation Blues, was written and recorded in the wake of a powerfully traumatic romantic breakup, and as beautiful as it often was, the pain that inspired it was never far from the surface. Following a collaboration with his former partner in the Jayhawks, Gary Louris (2008's Ready for the Flood), Many Colored Kite finds Olson making music on his own again, and though these songs appear to be the work of a stronger and happier man, this remains a deeply introspective set of songs, with a keenly spiritual undertow running through these meditations on love, nature, and humanity. Beau Raymond produced these recordings, and the sound is simple and uncluttered, dominated by acoustic guitars and Olson's voice, and even when the album gingerly dips its toes into rock & roll, the music maintains a steady hand and a touch that's careful not to lean too hard on the tunes.
If the powers that be ever decide to build the alt-country movement its own Hall of Fame there’s a good chance you’ll find a bust of Mark Olson in the museum’s foyer. With his pioneering Minneapolis band the Jayhawks, Olson and fellow singer/songwriter Gary Louris helped complete the house that Gram Parsons laid a foundation for decades earlier. In 1995, Olson walked away from his own band while they were arguably at the peak of their powers.
If the Jayhawks weren’t exactly the first band to pack up country and move it into the big city, they were at least one of the more seminal ones. Directly influencing city-mates Uncle Tupelo, members of which went on to crystallize the genre with Wilco, they established a clear template for what became known as alt-country, combining the textures and instrumentation of country with a dose of folk’s intense lyrical introspection. That vein of introspection continues with Many Colored Kite, Mark Olson’s second solo album and third release in the last three years.