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Earlier this year Lost Highway released the first CD reissue of the Jayhawks' self-titled 1986 debut album—usually called "The Bunkhouse Album," after the name of the one-off label that band manager Charlie Pine created for it. Until I got a copy, I'd assumed that 1989's The Blue Earth was the band's debut. The reissue captures a very young group still finding its way. Though the trademark harmony singing of Olson and Louris was already working, the songwriting was less impressive—its mix of post-Dylan folk-rock, old-school Nashville honky-tonk, and an attempt at Flying Burrito Brothers gloss was clunky in a way the band would soon leave behind. The record is more a curiosity than an essential part of the Jayhawks discography, but it has its charms. You can check out the song "Let the Critics Wonder," with Olson baldly aping Dylan, below.
Though it's true he's working more with Louris, Olson remains focused on his solo career. On Many Colored Kite he's at his best on the songs where he's joined by a strong second voice—such as the opening track, "Little Bird of Freedom," where he harmonizes with Jolie Holland (you can hear it below), and "No Time to Live Without Her," where Brit-folk veteran Vashti Bunyan adds some ethereal warmth. Many of the tunes benefit from the presence of Olson's girlfriend Ingunn Ringvold—who also cowrote a couple of the songs—though she sticks mostly to backing vocals. When he's all by himself, as on the string-kissed ballad "Beehive," his wobbly intonation can be a little hard to take.
Olson performs at Schubas on Friday accompanied only by guitarist Ray Woods, which means his voice will be front and center, for better or worse.
The Jayhawks: "Let the Critics Wonder":
Mark Olson: "Little Bird of Freedom":
photo: Ingunn Ringvold
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Hansson & Karlsson, Hansson & Karlsson (Polydor)
Takahiro Kawaguchi and Shinjiro Yamaguchi, Hello (Ftarri)
Jazkamer, Eat Shit (Asspiss)