Seven seconds into the Jayhawks' ninth album – and first since 1995 to feature both founders, Gary Louris and Mark Olson – bear-hug harmonies envelop ringing guitars and strings: a striking echo of Tomorrow the Green Grass' shoulda-beena- hit, "Blue." Mockingbird Time is a cheeky title for a band of inspired borrowers: from the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo, from CSNY, and from themselves. But the Jayhawks made their mix a signature long ago; though they stretch out with surprising hooks, the tunes are branded like calves – soaring singalongs full of bad weather, emotional and meteorological. They're Minnesotan to the bone.
It was clear from their first recordings that the combination of Mark Olson and Gary Louris was a key part of the Jayhawks' magic, but it wasn't until Olson left the group after the release of 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass that it became clear just how vital their collaboration as songwriters and vocalists was to the band's best work. While Louris kept the Jayhawks together and made some fine records, and Olson cut some compelling solo albums as well as recording with Victoria Williams in the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, it was hard not to realize that neither artist was as strong on their own as they were together. Olson and Louris recorded an acoustic album together in 2008, Ready for the Flood, that sounded stiff and tentative, but a couple years of writing and road work has made all the difference, and their reunion with fellow Jayhawks Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg, and Tim O'Reagan, Mockingbird Time, is easily the group's strongest and most cleanly focused album since their 1992 masterpiece Hollywood Town Hall.
More than the sum of their parts? That's the Jayhawks. Separately, the voices of Mark Olson and Gary Louris tend to be thin; together, their harmonies are as richly American, in their way, as the Beach Boys. Writing together melds Olson's country tendencies with Louris's rockier leanings. And now, 16 years after their last album together, they have reunited, to often glorious effect.
Believe it or not, but it’s been eight years since Rainy Day Music, The Jayhawks‘ last full-length. It’s been even longer (16 years) since co-songwriter Mark Olson departed to spend more time with then-wife Victoria Williams and her guitar following 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass. But, in the time since, Olson and Gary Louris recorded an album together, reunited for a few tours (including Jayhawks shows at 2009’s Primavera Sound), and released respective solo records.
Back in the 1990s, The Jayhawks were supposed to be huge. They’d plugged away for several years before releasing their breakthrough, Hollywood Town Hall, in 1992, earning the label “alt-country” more by coincidence than by actual sound. That album and its follow-up, 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass, honed the rustic harmonies and observational songwriting of Gary Louris and Mark Olson, who sang beautifully together about real people traipsing through the snowy Midwest.
After forming in 1985, the Jayhawks took some time—but few albums—to develop their memorable sound. After the self-titled debut, the group released Blue Earth, which showed their growth as songwriters, but they wouldn’t reach their pinnacle for a few more years. Hollywood Town Hall came out in 1992 with the aesthetic fully developed; the group had a country rock sound, but its own idiosyncratic version, most notable for the vocal harmonies provided by Mark Olson and Gary Louris.
It doesn’t feel like The Jayhawks have ever really left us. But it’s good to have them back. Yes, we’ve got fantastic reissues of Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass, the first official release of the Bunkhouse album, an anthology, and albums from Gary Louris and Mark Olson, both together and solo, all since 2008. That might count as a Jayhawks overdose for some.
Friends reunited for nostalgic celebration; sparks don’t fly. Ninian Dunnett 2011 With Mark Olson returning as co-leader of The Jayhawks after 16 years away, Mockingbird Time marks a long-awaited reunion for nostalgic fans. Its familiar noises are pleasing, too – though it’s hard to believe this was ever a band which made music that sounded new.