Jayhawks Rainy Day Music

The mark of a great band is how well they bounce back from a bad record, and following their previous outing, 2000’s Smile, the Jayhawks had a lot of work to do. The big problem then was their odd decision to work with ’70s big budget producer Bob Ezrin, whose grandiose sonic visions left at least half of the songs dead on arrival. In many ways it was the ‘Hawks’ attempt to break out of the alt-country box they’ve occupied their entire career. But while bands like Wilco accomplished the task through a hit-or-miss attitude toward spontaneous inspiration, the ‘Hawks opted to delve into a mythic rock’n’roll past, which unfortunately did nothing to illuminate the simple honesty that’s been the hallmark of main songwriter Gary Louris’s work since he assumed control of the band with 1997’s brilliant Sound Of Lies. With Ryan Adams’ producer Ethan Johns behind the board, Rainy Day Music doesn’t so much return to those glory days, but goes further back to the stripped down grace of the band’s earliest albums. Of course, their songwriting has evolved by leaps and bounds since then, and that combination makes Rainy Day Music undeniably their best collection thus far. Of all of Louris’s homespun poetry on the album, there’s something in the way he sings, "My harp is tuned to the morning wind/ My flute to the voice that weeps within” ("Come To The River”), that reveals the band has reconnected with the stream of North American music they came to exemplify; one that encapsulated everything the Byrds and the Band were 35 years ago, but (as with the Cowboy Junkies) came to include many other contemporary touchstones. It’s a thrilling moment, made even more so with the knowledge that not many other bands right now can assert that they are in a position to carry such a weighty torch. With Rainy Day Music, the Jayhawks make a strong case that they may not only be the best Americana band, but the best American band, period. (Lost Highway)