The Jayhawks continue defining Americana Rock

Mike Schoeck

The Jayhawks turned veterans of the Americana/Alt-Country sound of rock with “Smile”, their sixth studio release, released this past summer on Columbia Records. The album is a worthy mix of Americana tracks culled by several of the band’s founding members.
A significant pop-rock band from the start, the Jayhawks formed in 1985 with Minnesota friends Mark Olsen and Gary Louris as country vocalists and guitarists. The two sounded reminiscent of a Gram Parsons or the Byrds alternative-country rock revival.
Recruiting various members over the years, the country-rock band now includes Louris up front, with bassist Marc Perlman, guitarist/vocalist Kraig Johnson, keyboardist Jen Gunderman, and drummer Tim O’Reagan.
The band’s latest single is “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” a nice cliche and a new addition to the second volume of the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack.
The band’s definitive sound stands out on their middle four records, on the American Recordings and Twin Tone labels between.
“Sound of Lies” (1997) pays homage to original classic rock, Americana-forerunners Big Star, with “Big Star” and “The Man Who Loved Life.” “Hollywood Town Hall” (1992) showed off the rising band’s sophomore LP with gems like “Waiting for the Sun” and “Take Me With You (When You Go).”
“Tomorrow the Green Grass” (1995) has a slew of acoustic and twangy gems like “Blue,””Ann Jane,”and a Grand Funk cover of “Bad Time.” Green Grass featured folk singer/songwriter Victoria Williams helping vocally on a few tracks, creating a strong harmony of vocalists Olsen and Louris with then-keyboardist Karen Grotberg.
In 1995, Olsen married Williams as he pursued solo interests. He set up the Sweet Relief foundation for Williams in 1993 as she recovered from multiple sclerosis. The group aids musicians in need of medical assistance. An all-star compilation featured the Jayhawks, Pearl Jam, Soul Asylum, & other artists lending a hand on some of Williams’ noted classics.
Since the beginning, the Jayhawks evolved into a quintessential American roots-rock outfit in what became known as alternative-country rock, or simply Americana. The Jayhawks were the tip of the iceberg of insurgent country-rockers of the heartland. Their influence initiated a wave of similar pop-rock bands like Wilco, Soul Asylum, Sister Hazel and Fastball.
At present Wilco and Son Volt frontmen Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar have been putting on solo acoustic tours at American club venues. The Jayhawks are still touring Europe and will return home come Springtime. My advice to you is to check out any club date featuring any pop-rock act and you will go home enlightened.
Wilco, the Jayhawks, and Big Star (before both) have consistently dished out prime cuts of America’s roots in newer Americana country-rock. 1990’s indie and digital sub-grunge acts like Pavement, Moby, Beck and singer/songwriter brands like Elliott Smith have shown an uncanny influence and connection to roots-rock acts past and present.