On their last few albums the Jayhawks have tried, with varying degrees of success, to wriggle out of the stylistic confines of alt-country. On 1997's Sound of Lies, the group's first album following the departure of cofounder Mark Olson, they relegated their trademark twang to the margins in favor of a richly textured rock sound. Smile, released in 2000, was more adventurous, but its rhythm loops and purposeless jamming proved a dead end. Now Rainy Day Music (American), featuring what remains of the band--singer and primary songwriter Gary Louris, bassist Marc Pearlman, and drummer Tim O'Regan--is a proverbial return to roots. Whether they've forsaken growth for a familiar, crowd-pleasing style or reembraced a sound their big-name producers pushed them away from, I don't ultimately care: this is not only the group's most stripped-down and relaxed-sounding effort since the late 80s, it's also one of their best. Louris's writing is still rife with 70s country-rock cliches--his hippy-dippy gospel overtures make "Come to the River" ("If you wanna taste the water / Gotta come to the river") sound uncomfortably like a lost Crosby, Stills & Nash tune--but the music's delicate beauty allows it to transcend the lack of originality. And Louris's high-pitched cry, never clearer or more heartfelt, blends with his bandmates' voices in the Gram Parsons-style harmonies that put the Jayhawks on the map years before "No Depression" was an album title, let alone a genre. Tim Easton opens. Monday, April 14, 7 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Martyn Atkiins.