The Jayhawks
Music from the North Country:
The Jayhawks Anthology


It can be rather distressing to write about one of your favorite bands, but for the love of holy nostalgia the Jayhawks just released their first-ever compilation. With 20 tracks from six studio albums, I preordered it and checked the mail daily with the anticipation of a kid in his first rollercoaster line.

Since forming in Minneapolis 24 years ago, the Jayhawks have quietly been heralded as one of the vertebrae in the alt-country/Americana movement. Known for dulcet harmonies and an unmistakable velvety timbre, they were cofounded by Gary Louris and Mark Olson and named after Bob Dylan’s 1960’s backing band the Hawks. Their first self-titled album was a 1986 vinyl-only release by Bunkhouse Records. Three years later Blue Earth was released on Twin Tone, and Louris helped found the all-star country-rock group Golden Smog. In 1992, the Jayhawks released Hollywood Town Hall, their first major label album, on Rick Rubin’s Def American, which subsequently also put out Tomorrow the Green Grass, Sound of Lies, Smile and Rainy Day Music, only under the banner of American Recordings.

Like other bands with quixotic co-creators, the Jayhawks weren’t immune to creative differences. Olson left the band in 1995 to form a country-folk band with then-wife Victoria Williams. After years of recording solo albums, Louris and Olson rejoined in January to release the acoustic Ready for the Flood, released by New West and produced by Chris Robinson (the Black Crowes).

Music from the North Country is well timed. Louris and Olson, along with bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O’Reagan and keyboard player/vocalist Karen Grotberg, reunited for their first official show as the Jayhawks at a Barcelona festival in May. They played another festival in Minneapolis in June and there’s talk of a Bonnaroo performance next year.

The anthology was overseen by Louris and is a best-of chronological journey through the Jayhawks’ evolution. The crestfallen lyrics and marked key changes of “Two Angels” and “Waiting For The Sun” establish the twangst of their first two albums. “Blue” and “I’d Run Away” from Tomorrow the Green Grass uphold the acutely Jayhawkian whiskeyed hymnal tradition. Then comes “The Man Who Loves Life” from the career-defining melancholic masterpiece that is Sound of Lies. Ruefully, the Smile-era produced cuts like “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” that are reminders of when the band meandered the tepid waters of pop, but Rainy Day Music’s “Tailspin” and “Save It for a Rainy Day” reclaim their viscerally somber core.

The deluxe three-CD version of Music from the North Country includes B-sides, demos, outtakes, previously unreleased recordings, and a music video DVD. It’s an accurate cross-section of the band’s oeuvre, but I can’t help wishing that trademark songs like “It’s Up to You” and “Eyes of Sarah Jane” made the cut. Either way, these are high times for the band’s enduring fans. The Jayhawks can in fact take a hint; it wasn’t lost on them. There’s no need to stumble through the dark when there’s such a vital part to play.
Alexandra Kelley