Album of the Week: The Jayhawks, 'XOXO'

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The Jayhawks, 'XOXO'
The Jayhawks, 'XOXO' (Sham/Thirty Tigers)
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It's crazy to think, but The Jayhawks have been a band for 35 years. Time flies! As a long time fan, it's always exciting for me to hear their new material. I think XOXO might be the most unique album they've recorded.

Two years ago, The Jayhawks hinted that things were changing when they issued Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. Louris has sung almost all of the leads since Mark Olson left the band a little more than a decade ago. But here, drummer Tim O'Reagan and pianist Karen Grotberg each took a turn or two on lead vocals.

Now, on XOXO The Jayhawks sound more like a band than ever, The mic gets passed around almost as often as it did back in the 60's and 70's when The Band made their classic albums. "It was time to open things up," Louris told Glide Magazine. "The Jayhawks are a true band, one where every-one's an equal, and we wanted to make a record that really reflected that."

This is easily their most collaborative work in their 35-year history. Gary Louris told Jim McGuinn in a recent Virtual Chat on The Current, "this is like I'm singing 98 percent of the material and I just loved the other people's voices and their songwriting and I'm not particularly good at writing songs for Karen or Tim. So -- and I know they're songwriters and I just kind of pushed them to express themselves more."

Express themselves they do. There is not nearly as much of Gary's blazing Gibson SG guitar on this album, leaving room for Karen to chime in with lovely, gentle piano driven ballads like "Ruby" and "Across My Field."

Grotberg's piano work is all over "Living In A Bubble," a timely Louris tune about the fruits and the dangers of isolation. He sings, "Living in a bubble / in and out of time / I stick my head out every once in a while." We can all relate to this subject matter during this Covid-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, drummer Tim O'Reagan rocks on "Dogtown Days," which has more of an upbeat powerpop feel. Check out the cool Phil Harder video for this one. Tim also takes the lead on "Society Pages," which has a more indie-rock vibe. Even bassist Mark Perlman takes a turn on "Down on the Farm."

The album was recorded at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, MN, and at the late Ed Ackerson's Flowers Studio in their native Minneapolis. It sounds like the 'hawks may have used some of Ed's toys on the track, "Homecoming," which features Gary Louris guitar, hints of psychedelia and a sunny Laurel Canyon vibe.

35 years and The Jayhawks are still a vital band. XOXO might be their most diverse album. It's really nice to see all of The Jayhawks spread their wings a bit.

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