The Jayhawks: Anthology; Music from the North Country (American)

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The Jayhawks: The Man Who Loved Life
The Jayhawks: Anthology; Music from the North Country (American)

This influential alt.country/indie-rock band from Minneapolis has a long and slightly convoluted history: Mark Olson quit in '95 after a decade, but has latterly rejoined co-founder Gary Louris who had carried the band name into their slightly-delic pop-rock albums Sound of Lies and Smile, and the country-rock default position on Rainy Day Music.

Given that, it is no surprise this compilation comes in a number of versions: there is the single disc (considered here); a double disc with rarities and video clips; and yet another even more expanded version with outakes and such like for the real aficionado.

The Jayhawks initially advanced the case for Band-influenced country rock at a time when most of the world was tuned in to post-punk New Wave and stadium rock and, as such, they were in the vanguard of the alt.country/roots movement alongside early Wilco -- albeit with electric guitars and a Byrds/Beatles' sensibility when it came to crafting a tune with a pop chorus.

The 20 tracks collected here cover the long haul from one track off their faltering debut album Blue Earth (Two Angels) through their confident Hollywood Town Hall, Tomorrow the Green Grass and The Sound of Lies albums (which should be in any serious alt.country rock collection) to material from the later post-Olson albums (seven tracks from Smile and Rainy Day Music).

Those familiar with the band need not linger here as this will be a familiar journey, but if you have come to the idiom late then here is a band and -- in Olson and Louris -- singer-songwriters who can craft a memorable, downbeat melody which might be slightly melancholy but has some oddly life-affirming characteristics.

And when Louris got slightly trippy in a post-Byrds manner after Olson quit, a new door opened in country rock which had probably been slammed when Gram Parsons checked out and former Byrds David Crosby and Roger McGuinn got understandably (musically) cautious.

Good starter on the Jayhawks. 

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