Monday, 17 August 2009

North Country Boys

When I was at Primavera Sound in Barcelona earlier this year I was most swept up with Neil Young, as pretty much everyone else was. I even made a friend amid the madness, a short hairy little Spanish gentleman who used my shoulder as a support for his ecstatic jumping up and down. Also spectacular were Wooden Shjips and Dead Meadow, but by far the most emotional set, for me and many others, was from The Jayhawks on the Saturday. That evening they played pretty much every song you would have wanted from 'Sister Cry' to 'Ain't No End'. Now comes the release of a best-of, which I was generously sent.

Now, while Olson and Louris will probably make more music and it may even be good, this album, entitled Music From The North Country, acts as a an opportunity to mark these beautiful songs and the two disparate characters who made them. One of the top three bands from the 90s, no doubt.

Those songs from their 1985 inception to when Olson left in 1995 are selected perfectly, even though if space allowed pretty much half of every album made in that period could have been included. Unfortunately, 'Sister Cry' doesn't make it, but 'I'd Run Away', 'Two Angels', 'Martin's Song' and 'Settled Down Like Rain' do, alongside the obvious stuff like 'Blue' and 'Waiting For The Sun'. The second half of this collection is all about The Jayhawks minus Olson, and while many (with good reason) reckon they weren't The Jayhawks without Olson, there are some gems from that latter period too. 'Trouble' is a succinct encapsulation of all of Louris's gifts, for example.

The Jayhawks are one of those songwriting partnerships where the indulgences of each member are reined in by the other to achieve an exact, amazing equilibrium between their talents. Louris was the more sentimental one, prone to writing songs with lines about having his "little baby boy". This was kept in check by the odder Dylan-esque lyrical tendencies of Olson, whose curious, biting irony was magnified by that nasal croon of his. Without Louris there to soften him up The Jayhawks might have gone to places too dark to achieve the (moderate) critical and commercial following they did.

Three songs that are good: 'Won't Change My Mind' by Liam Finn, 'Two' by Lisa O Piu and 'Rust' by Telekinesis.

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