Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Jayhawks • Hollywood Town Hall, Tomorrow the Green Grass

It's the great Northern Minnesota raid! I don't know if they're from Northern 'Sota, actually, but I know The Jayhawks are back and that's a good thing. They put out a tremendous best of last year, Music from the North Country, and now American has reissued their first two releases on the label, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. I'll be upfront in saying that I didn't catch on to these guys the first time around—I guess the "alt country" tag that kept getting pinned on them was a turn-off for Mr. Power Pop here. Then they did Sound of Lies (1997), which was right up my alley, and then I lost track of 'em. This here rock critic now looks through the lenses of hindsight and reissuedom and has decided that the Jayhawks were much, much more than alt country; what they are is a ROCK BAND that uses pretty much all the American genres available to them and come up with a sound all of their own.

Hollywood Town Hall, first released in 1992, is definitely a showcase for Gary Louris and Mark Olson's voices, and it does come off more on the alt country than the power pop side, but you can't deny the greatness of "Waiting for the Sun," which one of my Facebook friends says was in the van's CD player the whole tour of '94. If you're afraid of close harmonies, the kind Phil & Don and Charlie & Ira put down, then you'll probably want to stay away from this one. If, however, you count that kind of singing as one of the great treasures of modern music (and you overlook the fact that Louis and Olson aren't actually brothers), then here, my friend, is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Next up was the album that many consider the band's finest 40 moments, Tomorrow the Green Grass. How I missed this the first time is beyond me. I mean, me, the rock critic who thought he was up on everything. Thought he had a handle on things, thought he had his finger on the pulse of America's youth. Feh. I missed this bigtime. I can now say with only slight embarrassment that avoding this album is like saying to anyone in particular, "I don't really care about rock music." Well, I do care about rock music—as you know—and I'm telling you now that this CD is beyond brilliant. Whether it's "Blue," the beautiful "I'd Run Away," or their cover of Grand Funk's "Bad Time," Tomorrow... is today's pick. Big fans of the band will adore this release, with five bonus tracks on disc one and then "The Mystery Demos" (eighteen of 'em!) that make up disc two. I haven't even got to those yet, I've been so mesmerized by the album itself. But I'm sure they'll reveal their likely greatness to me in due time. Those demos were recorded in '92 with just Louis and Olson (save a couple with violin included) on guitars.

Now I will count myself as a fan of the band and wish they had come out to Seattle on the short tour they did. But the news is that the "classic lineup" has recorded a new album that'll be out later in 2011, so grab these now (and don't bypass Sound of Lies either) and get yourself geared up.

3/5 Hollywood Town Hall, 4/5 Tomorrow the Green Grass (American)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

David Lowery • The Palace Guards

What I like best about David Lowery, who has incidentally fronted two of my favorite bands—Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker—is that he can effortlessly move from rockin' to weepin', poppin' to peepin', and runnin' to creepin', all within the confines of a normal length album. His first solo disc, The Palace Guards, doesn't rock as much as most of you will remember Cracker doing with "Low" and the like, yet there's so much to dig on this that you probably would have forgotten that if I hadn't've reminded you.

Lowery doesn't disappoint his longtime fans here. The tunes tend more toward the CVB side, I suppose, but that's not counting Cracker's countryish Countrysides album, or their collaboration with Leftover Salmon. His trademark sense of humor is represented well, for instance on the title track, as is that sweet, sorta boy next door side, the one that utters such great lyrics as these from "Submarine": "All we got is love and time and kindnesses / To carry us in troubled times and crisises." Rock 'n' roll isn't entirely absent, as you'll hear on "Baby, All Those Girls Meant Nothing to Me," which is only missing the gritty guitar of Johnny Hickman to make it a real life cracker. (JH does make a brief appearance on the CD though.) I'm also nuts about "Ah, You Left Me," which isn't so rockin' and wasn't even written by David, though you'd never know it if I hadn't've reminded you.

Basically, anyone who's into CVB or Cracker will entirely enjoy this CD, unless you've got something against fun albums that warrant repeated listenings. And since David Lowery rarely lets us down in this regard, I think you'll find my little review to be superfluous once you meet The Palace Guards for yourself.

3.5/5 (429 Records)