May 2003

The Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music
American/Lost Highway 02378
Released: 2003

by Ken Micallef

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2 *

Abandoning the brazen rock guitars and sappy strings of 2002's Smile, Brydsian revivalists the Jayhawks return to the sublime acoustic bliss that made their previous albums Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass favorites among the Americana crowd. Some, such as in a recent issue of Mojo, find the Jayhawks’ simple pleasures an easy mark. "Why don’t they move on?" chided the reviewer, citing Wilco as way ahead, and thus missing the point. With a dearth of decent, even listenable pop, the Jayhawks’ sweet acoustic songs offer respite from the ravages of metal, hip hop, and the MTV-unwashed masses. With guest spots by Jakob Dylan, Matthew Sweet, Chris Stills, and ex-Eagles banjoist Bernie Leadon, and produced by Rick Rubin, Rainy Day Music is homespun, but not homely.

Led by Gary Louris’ high croon, the Jayhawks’ new sounds recall (as usual) Gram Parsons, The Band, and Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds, plus new (for the 'Hawks) references to David Bowie and Crosby, Stills & Nash. A couple tracks, though throwaways ("Talespin", "Save It For A Rainy Day"), are still enjoyable, but greater bliss abounds. "All the Right Reasons" creates campfire coziness with accordion, banjo and acoustic guitars. Space Oddity-era Bowie is celebrated with the dark vocals and surreal mood of "Don’t Let The World Get In Your Way," while no one less than Freddy Fender gets his due in the twinkling bromides and hayride harmonies of "Angelyne." "Madman" exudes '70s drug damage with exotic percussion, smoky acoustic and brooding steel guitars all wrapped up in Manassas-like vocals.

Not everything on Rainy Day Music is memorable. Some songs seem like little more than a good idea put to digital. But the overall sound is very good, as is expected with a menu of acoustic instruments and harmony vocals. Each instrument is distinct and fleshy, merging well with the vocals, which are well placed, but never too forward in the mix. Rainy Day Music won’t keep you inside on a bright summer day, but you’ll search it out when the lights get low.