The Jayhawks, Hollywood Town Hall
The Jayhawks' major-label debut
Minnesota's Jayhawks formed in 1985 and pioneered the kind of roots rock that came to be called "Americana" in the mid '90s. After honing their sound on two independent releases, the band broke through on their major-label debut, Hollywood Town Hall. The songwriting prowess and heartland harmonies of Mark Olson (a former seminary student) and Gary Louris (an architect) created a masterpiece of the genre, a blend of country, rock and folk. With Olson's Gram Parsons-style vocals and Louris's Neil Young-inspired tenor and guitar, songs such as the harmonica-fueled "Two Angels" hint at Byrds-CSNY-Burritos-era country rock, with a modern edge. "Two Angels" is enhanced by the graceful piano supplied by legendary British keyboardist Nicky Hopkins (the Beatles, the Stones, the Who), who also contributed to the lovely "Martin's Song."
The Jayhawks' distinctive Midwestern landscape lives and breathes in the warm sonic textures and poetic lyrics of the plaintive "Settled Down Like Rain" ("the sound of footprints on the ground") and bluesy ballad "Wichita ("where the fields are smiling), with its dueling guitar and organ. The catchy "Waiting for the Sun" is kicked off by guest pianist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) on what producer George Drakoulias calls "that lonely signature single note"; fittingly, Louris's vintage Fuzz Face pedal turns his Gibson SG into a soaring cyclone of emotion on its finale. Morality tales like "Clouds" and "Nevada, California" point to the influence of their hometown bard, who first plied his craft in Minneapolis's Dinkytown.
The expanded edition of the original 1992 album includes five previously unreleased tracks, including the barnburner "Leave No Gold" (and its glorious feedback coda), the twangy "Keith and Quentin," and gospel-rocker "Up Above My Head." "I believe there's a heaven somewhere," goes the latter's sing-along chorus. It might just be located at Hollywood Town Hall.