"Mockingbird Time," The Jayhawks (Rounder)
Sometimes you can go back. Mark Olson left the Jayhawks in 1995, just after the group released its classic album "Tomorrow the Green Grass" and had a college rock hit with the song "Blue." While the band continued on with good albums, one element that made the band so magical, Olson's close-harmony vocals with fellow singer-songwriter-guitarist Gary Louris, was lost. Nothing that followed could come close to the Americana splendor and dreaminess of "Tomorrow the Green Grass."
Olson created music with his then-wife Victoria Williams in the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers for several years and released a couple of solo albums, after he and Williams divorced, and Olson and Louris reunited in 2008 for the album "Ready for the Flood."
Yet, it took a full get-together of the "Green Grass"-era Jayhawks on the new disc "Mockingbird Time" (available Sept. 20) to really hear the magic return. From the opening track, "Hide Your Colors," "Mockingbird Time" sounds like the follow-up that "Green Grass" deserved. It's folky, It's lush. It's generally gorgeous. Olson and Louris sound great singing together again, and keyboardist Karen Grotberg finds just the right spots to nudge through all the picking. And the songs are easy to settle back with and sweetly dig at your subconscious to give them another spin.
It's good to have the Jayhawks back.
"Old Mad Joy," The Gourds (Vanguard)
It's a wonder that The Gourds have survived for 17 years. Bands this wild and unpredictable tend to burn out before their 10th birthday or grow into serious, malcontent adults.
Thankfully, growing old has never meant growing up for these Austin, Texas, contrarians. The Gourds are just as musically adept and lovably weird as when they adapted Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" into an acoustic Americana classic in the late 1990s.
While the band has yet to release a dud, "Old Mad Joy" (available Sept. 13), is a particular charmer.
The two most prolific of the group's three singer-songwriters continue to become more distinctive.
Bluesy-voiced guitarist Kevin Russell provides the most straightforward and melancholy numbers — although "straightforward" with The Gourds only means you might know what's going on. Bassist Jimmy Smith is the group's most out-there element. His lyrics on "Drop the Charges" make absolutely no sense: "Trumped up non adhesive fall down jeeze louisin'/Suzi Quatro flankin' tres well that's/who's down in my palais."
What sounds like an incomprehensible drunken ramble, set to the band's bouncy accompaniment and Smith's happy delivery, is a musical package that's so much fun that you could care less what it might mean.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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