Some bands come back in order to bring their music to a new generation of listeners. Some bands come back in order to please the aficionados. Yet it’s hardly a given that the aforementioned cases will result in good records. And thankfully, The Jayhawks’ comeback is different. First, they haven’t been away all that long (Rainy Day Music, their previous outing, was released eight years ago – hardly a hiatus by today’s languid standards) and secondly, well, their fans could always resort to some other decent Americana outfit for comfort and pleasure. No, the reason for Mockingbird Time is different and a great deal more satisfying: song-wise, the reunited duo of Gary Louris and Mark Olson have a lot to say. As simple as that.
However good The Jayhawks’ tasteful, chiming alt.country may have been, for me Louris’ songwriting was most effective when he added that power-pop edge to it: like he did on those sparkling, loose and infectious Golden Smog albums, as well as The Jayhawks’ classic Sound Of Lies. Mockingbird Time is all that and more. The first thing that strikes you is how incredibly colourful it sounds (it’s hardly a surprise that no less than two of the album’s songs, the opening ‘Hide Your Colours’ and the title track, have the word “colour” in their choruses). There are no mannerisms or country-rock restraints here: gentle, acoustic passages are intertwined with moments of sheer bombastic delight (check out the driving, intense verses of ‘High Water Blues’). Plus, there’s a lot to be said for the record’s rich and relatively complex arrangements, what with all that smart mix of soaring slide guitars, lush acoustic shuffles, violins, tasteful distortion, and even some orchestration.
And the tunes, of course. I love Hollywood Town Hall as much as everyone else, but this might be the strongest, most wild, moving and consistent set of songs Louris and Olson have managed so far. Take ‘Guilder Annie’, for instance, which starts like a straightforward enough Flying Burrito Brothers pastiche until that timeless-sounding “see things how I see them” line comes along. The effect is magical, but the gorgeous, moving middle-eight might be even better. And just how many artists are able to write a great middle-eight these days?.. And how about the classic dark riff of ‘Cinnamon Love’? The violin of ‘Black-Eyed Susan’ (which, interestingly, sounds not unlike The Blackeyed Susans) and the song’s brilliantly ecstatic fade-out?..
Overall, Mockingbird Time is just about drenched in fine, confident melodies and killer vocal (Louris’ voice is as resonant as ever) and instrumental hooks. The Jayhawks prove here that it’s a good, articulate song that is the reason for coming back (take heed). Let’s see if Wilco’s newest is at least half as good as this. “Quality comeback” would be a clear understatement; Mockingbird Time is simply bound to find its way into your end-of-year list. It’s that good.
Released on 12th September 2011 by Decca Records