Wednesday, July 18, 2007

There's A Hope In Our Hearts

Will there ever come a time when the opening measures of "Waiting For The Sun," the first song on Hollywood Town Hall, don't give me the chills? Probably not. The Jayhawks' first major label release is one of my favorite records of all time. It, along with the follow-up, Tomorrow The Green Grass, marked an impressive burst into the then-burgeoning "alt.county" music scene that still gets regular play around the TTT offices.

But for reasons beyond the scope of this post, it seemed that The Jayhawks 1.0 were over almost as quickly as they started, as founder (and my favorite Jayhawk) Mark Olson walked away from the band at the peak of their ascension to make music and be with his wife Victoria Williams. Even though Gary Louris bravely carried on under the established trademark, he did so in a decidedly different direction, and for whatever reason, I, as a fan, eventually parted company with all of the above. And while Rainy Day Music drew me back in to The Jayhawks, it turned out to be the band's swan song, and a fitting close. Following the Jayhawks' demise, a tour with Olson and Louris held the promise of a spark of the original magic, and we crossed our fingers.

Mark Olson's first actual "solo" record, The Salvation Blues, is at least in part the realization of that promise. Louris makes a significant contribution in both songwriting and backup vocals, and it sounds great to hear the boys back together again on new songs. Still, the most notable aspect of this record is its fantastic, unparalleled songwriting. I hereby nominate Mark Olson as this nation's new poet laureate. Having survived what one might surmise was a bitter divorce with Williams (Olson reportedly lost not only his wife but the beloved house he built in Joshua Tree, California) and two years of wandering and soul-searching, he has returned with a work of true beauty.

The Salvation Blues, in many respects, picks up where the original Jayhawks left off. It sounds a little more world-weary, maybe, but a fair amount smoother around the edges too, and to paraphrase Jerry Garcia, a touch of gray suits Mr. Olson well. The musicianship is impeccable, and the sound is authentic Americana, timeless and yet well-worn, and completely oblivious to anything like trends or current pop culture. It brings with it an understandable undercurrent of sorrow (e.g., "My One Book Philosophy"), but at the same time an undeniable spirit of optimism. And why not? Mark Olson has recaptured the original magic.

MP3: Mark Olson - "Clifton Bridge" - from The Salvation Blues