Jayhawks Smile

This is not the Jayhawks' finest hour, and the hint of desperate optimism you can read into the title is perhaps a tip-off. While the two Jayhawks albums immediately preceding this one, namely Tomorrow the Green Grass and The Sound of Lies, masked nothing and laid the band's anxieties and emotional stresses bare, Smile seems disingenuous and transparent by comparison. True enough, songs like "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" have all the requisites of high rotation radio hits - tight harmonies, hummable melodies and up-front, chiming guitars - but along with that comes a certain insipidness that tends to accompany anything that seems a little too eager to make nice with radio formats. Stock expressions and clichéd sentiments abound, many of them resolutely upbeat. Now it's verging on a truism to say that only misery and disappointment make for moving music, especially country and country-rock, but it remains true that the Jayhawks, for all their infectious power-pop melodies and harmonies, are a minor key group at their best, and songwriter Gary Louris has always been at his most affecting when he probes the starker feelings of loneliness and the vicissitudes of marginal lifestyles, such as playing in an alternative country-rock band. If this is the sound of bright-eyed hopefulness, I prefer the Sound of Lies. (Sony)