The Jayhawks – Mockingbird Time (Rounder/Universal)

Well, it’s good to have The Jayhawks back, and with Mark Olson returning to the fold, they are at full strength. The Minneapolis-based band started out back in 1985 and eventually became one of the standard-bearers of the then-emerging alt.country movement along with Uncle Tupelo. The band based its sound around the songwriting and harmonies of the two principle members, Olson and Gary Louris. Olson split in 1995 and the group carried on for a few more years, releasing their final album, Rainy Day Music, in 2003.

That is, until this new album.

Olson and Louris made tentative moves over the last decade to rekindle their musical partnership. By 2005 they were touring as a duo…they toured NZ in 2009…and they recorded an album together in 2008. Now we have a full-fledged reunion with keyboard player Karen Grotberg, bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Tim O’Reagan also back on board.

From listening to the new album’s opening track, Hide Your Colors, not much has changed over the years. Olson and Louris still sound thrilling together when they harmonize. The sound is bound to bring a smile to the face of any long-time fan.

While Hide Your Colors is driven by electric guitar, the following track, Closer To Your Side, features acoustic guitar and piano. Like the first song, strings and piano are used effectively…the production chores were handled by Louris.

The next song, Tiny Arrows is more reflective. With its reference to the desert, it reminds me of America’s Horse With No Name…not necessarily a bad thing. A steel guitar winds its way through the song making the harmonies sound just that more bittersweet.

She Walks In So Many Ways is the album’s first single and it’s an upbeat pop number that recalls the best of The Byrds. Meanwhile High Water Blues is an urgent rocker where the band has an opportunity to stretch out a bit.

Up until this point I was pretty excited by Mockingbird Time, but the second half of the album was somewhat less satisfying. While the distinctive Jayhawks sound was firmly in place, the songs themselves seemed to be less interesting. Songs like the title track, Stand Out In The Rain and Cinnamon Love lacked a certain something that kept them from sounding more that anything like filler.

So, while it’s great to have The Jayhawks back, let’s hope they manage to spend a bit more time on the songwriting next time around.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Tiny Arrows from Mockingbird Time