With all the rain we’ve been getting in Bangkok lately, I decided it would be apt to put Rainy Day Music by the Jayhawks on my MP4 player. The Jayhawks have made plenty of wonderful albums over the years, but Rainy Day Music is perhaps my favorite of them all. Although earlier albums such as Tomorrow the Green Grass and Hollywood Town Hall are considered by most critics — and more than a few fans — as the best ones the Jayhawks ever made, my personal favorites are the ones that the band made after Mark Olson left the band, such as Rainy Day Music, Smile, and Sound of Lies. Most diehard Jayhawks fans would scoff at such a musically sacrilegious statement, but while I like the early albums very much, I find that there’s just something more magical about the post-Olson albums with Gary Louris handling the lead vocals.
After Olson left the Jayhawks, the pressure was on Louris and the rest of the band to prove to skeptics that they could still make good music, and I think they more than delivered. Some listeners, especially the roots music purists, say the post-Olson albums are “too pop” or stray too far from the so-called “alt-country” of the early Jayhawks albums, but I think that’s elitist nitpicking. Any “change” in the band’s sound — and it’s really a subtle one — is simply the band adapting to Olson’s departure and also part of its inevitable metamorphosis. To my ears, it all sounds pretty damn wonderful. The Jayhawks always excelled at making melodic, country-tinged rock music that soothed the soul, and they only refined that ability with these albums.
And that takes us to the present. After a 16 year wait, the original band with Olson and Louris is back together again, and a new Jayhawks album, Mockingbird Time, was released earlier this month. I haven’t heard it yet, but you can rest assured I will be ordering it soon, since I doubt it’s something I’m going to find on local shelves. Surprisingly though, I found a copy of The Jayhawks very first album, often dubbed “The Bunkhouse Album,” at a branch of B2S here in Bangkok earlier this year. This is a wonderful album, positively oozing with country-rock flavorings, very reminiscent of the Flying Burrito Brothers, which of course was the band that the legendary Gram Parsons made some of his finest music with. Anyway, I’m sometimes pleasantly surprised with what I find on the shelves at B2S (although you have to have lots of patience and look everywhere; the way they organize their titles is horribly haphazard), particularly during the sales that they have two or three times each year. During these periodic sales, some very interesting catalog titles, and even a few recent releases (finally found the latest John Mellancamp, for example), make their Bangkok appearance for the first time. So, maybe there’s still a chance the new Jayhawks album will turn up here, but I don’t feel like waiting.