After 35 years together, The Jayhawks appear comfortable with their place in music. The quintessential jangle pop group, no one has personified the genre’s revival like The Jayhawks. And yet, 35 years later, nothing much has changed.
In their new LP, XOXO, it’s a true group effort. Years after losing one of their key members in Mark Olson, fellow singer Gary Louris, usually taking centre stage, steps back and lets his colleagues have a turn at the mic. Karen Grotberg, the master of the keyboards, gets to highlight her harmonies. There are a lot of Byrds, a lot of funky ‘70s Stones, and a lot of Wilco-esque songs–but that’s what The Jayhawks are all about.
There’s an eeriness to the album, an almost ghost town feel at the chaos the world has been through these past months. In the acoustic opener, “This Forgotten Town”, Grotberg’s harmony meshes against Louris’s laid-back vocal. “When we were young,” they sing, “we were judged by the choices that we made.” In songs like the reverb-laden “Dogtown Days”, the LA story of “Bitter Pill”, or the many iterations of the surreal and chilling and Grotberg-sung “Ruby”, there’s a ton of emotion throughout the songs on the record. There’s a hint of a gentle southern rock solo, through all the harmonies and hi-hats.
In spite of the gloom, there’s also a bit of fun. In the adequately-named “Living in a Bubble”, Louris sings, “what am I to do, just another day at the zoo.” “Little Victories” is a song revolving around a catchy bass riff and funky harmonies. It’s a fantastic song, eventually involving a twangy guitar solo. It’s an alternative rock jangler that’s completely Jayhawks.
XOXO is a record that alternates the experimental moments with tenderness, which is something The Jayhawks have always done best. It’s comforting to know that as things start to change, The Jayhawks don‘t.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: THE JAYHAWKS – XOXO