Album Review: The Jayhawks - Mockingbird Time

- November 3, 2011

"The Mighty D (a.k.a. Toast) gushes about the new album from reunited Minneapolis folkies"

It’s been about 15 years since this version of The Jayhawks line-up collaborated. It was worth the wait.

Mark Olson left in 1995, at the group’s artistic and popular peak. The band carried on as best they could, and Olson even rejoined with Jayhawks co-leader Gary Louris as a duo for a short time a few years back. Rumor has it they suspected there was at least one amazing, absolutely classic Jayhawks album yet to be recorded. Turns out they were right.

“Mockingbird Time” may well go down in history as their best, and it certainly stacks up with their landmark releases, “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Tomorrow the Green Grass,” which recently got the reissue/re-master treatment if you missed them the first time.

The first single off the new disc, “She Walks in So Many Ways,” is a fitting re-introduction to their sound: jangle-y, harmonic, power-folk. But, as is often the case with singles, it’s hardly the best this album has to offer.

One of the standout qualities of this disc is the almost-forgotten songwriting art of the bridge, and on songs like the sublime title track and especially “High Water Blues,” the bridges practically steal the show. “High Water Blues” is unusually manic, even rockin’ for this band. So far it’s my favorite song of the year.

The lush instrumentation in tracks like “Hide Your Colors” and “Tiny Arrows” buttresses the complex arrangements and helps carry the listening experience through. Yes, this album is a listening experience, overflowing with delicate, fractured beauty and the kind of raw emotional power hardly ever captured on a recording.

There isn’t a single track here I’d consider tedious listening, or filler, as most albums are burdened with. I used to dismiss The Jayhawks as just another neo-hippie folk band, but even the folkiest tracks here, like “Pouring Rain at Dawn” or “Black-Eyed Susan,” contain tiny surprises (like those imported Kinder Eggs) and elevate my overall estimation of the band.

“Stand Out in the Rain” plays like an epic, but clocks in at a concise four minutes. It’s one tiny epic after another on this album. The album’s closer, “Hey Mr. Man,” plays like a classic Jayhawks number, bringing us full circle, but also implies what’s to come. If we’re lucky, Olson and Louris may decide to re-convene the classic line-up for another session, but if not, this is as good a swan song as any.

These days, an actual album – a collection of songs with a dynamic range yet an underlying cohesion as well as layers which only peel away with repeated listening – is a rarity. This is one to appreciate, even relish, in its entirety.

(Released September 20, 2011, Rounder Records)