Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Band That Changed My Life- The Jayhawks

This is the band that changed my life musically. I am not overstating the significance and impact that this band had on me personally. Most of my life I had only had access to Top 40 or Alternative radio stations. Therefore my music taste was decided by radio programmers who played music based on what would bring in sales income to the station. So I had not been exposed to music out of the mainstream. I moved to New York City and had the privilege of being turned on to WNEW which at the time was playing what would become AAA (Adult Album Alternative) music. WNEW is the station Lou Reed referred to in his classic song “Rock and Roll”. One day I was listening to the legendary Scott Muni and heard a song by The Jayhawks. The song was “Waiting for the Sun” from their 1992 Hollywood Town Hall album. I was frozen in awe. I couldn't move. The music had so much depth and absolutely the most beautiful harmonies I had ever heard. The lyrics had meaning and really spoke to me. A few weeks later the station sponsored a free live outdoor show and I went to see what they were all about. After seeing them I first learned about what was going to be known as indie music. I was again in total admiration of this amazing band. The moment I purchased the album it changed the way I listened to music up to this day. From them I learned of many other amazing bands that radio stations were not playing and to this day continue my quest for bands that I can write to you about and hopefully turn you on to. Bands who craft intelligent music that speaks to us as individuals in a variety of ways. Bands who are talented and are playing music that motivates them, not driven purely by sales.

The Jayhawks were formed in 1985 in Minneapolis out of some other local bands. They had a strong roots and country rock influence led by the dynamic songwriting/ singing team of Gary Louris and Marc Olson. They released two albums on smaller labels and were at the forefront of what was going to be known as alternative country. They were then signed to Def American which has become American Recordings label and in 1992 they put out the album that changed my life. Just when I thought that I couldn't hear anything better, they released Tomorrow the Green Grass in 1995. To this day it is still one of my favorite all time albums. Its perfect songwriting and beautiful soaring vocals still sends chills up my spine today. “Blue” is also one of my favorite all-time songs. At the end of 1995 Marc Olson announced that he was leaving the band. They spent the next few years with a revolving cast of members, but in my opinion without the Olson/Louris combination, the band was a shell of its former self. By 2003 and three more albums they realized this also and called it quits.

What a surprise it was to me in September of this year that they released a new album called Mockingbird Time. I was skeptical at first and then I learned that Olson and Louris were back together again with some of the original members and the best of the previous formations. I had to give it a listen. While it may not be the best Jayhawks album it is certainly the best since Green Grass. To me personally just hearing the exquisite harmonies once again is worth the price of the album. Please enjoy the video and harmonies of “She Walks In So Many Ways” from the new album:

I am so pleased to be able to re-introduce this band to you. They are more than worth finding out about and listening to both their old and new music. They are a band that many current bands refer to as being a major influence on. If you listen to them, you will see why this is true. Just maybe they will change your life.

Larry Adds: I love learning how transformative The Jayhawks were in Fletcher's musical journey. When Fletcher introduced me to the band in 2000 they had a profound influence on me as well. In my case I had first listened to alternative music (called progressive music at the time) on Georgetown University's WGTB. When that station was sold for $1 in 1979 I lost my source to new music and gradually over time, lost touch with progressive music.

Like Fletcher I was drawn to the Jayhawk's harmony and intelligent lyrics. I also like the way that the Jayhawks can pull unexpected turns in their music so effectively. For example, they turn a lament into an anthem in "Blue".

I respectfully differ with Fletcher about one album without Olsen. I really enjoy 2003's Rainy Day Music. While I miss the Olsen/Louris harmony I think Louris exhibited extremely strong songwriting on this album. To me all of the songs on this album are excellent. From the lament, "All The Right Reasons" to the sadly humorous "Save It For A Rainy Day" I think this album is quite good. That said, I strongly agree with Fletcher that the Jayhawks best album is Tomorrow the Green Grass.

I've had the pleasure of seeing the band live 3 times. Most recently I caught the finale of their 2011 tour at the House of Blues, Houston. I can happily report that their live sound is still tight and terrific.

I'm forever grateful to Fletcher to introducing me to 21st century alternative music and the Jayhawks for being the band I first listened to when I started listening to new music again.

If you have been hesitant about listening to new music I strongly encourage you to give The Jayhawks a listen.