Is The New Jayhawks CD Shit Or THE SHIT?!

When frontman Mark Olsen left the Jayhawks suddenly in 1995, it was akin to Tom Petty leaving the Heartbreakers, thus when they chose to carry on without him, fans were left wondering if there was any way the band could create anything that wouldn't be a sort of sacrilege.

Quite surprisingly, the band's output wasn't so much a trampling of their own legacy, but, rather, the work of an altogether different band. While post-Olsen releases such as 2000's Smile and 2003's Rainy Day Music garnered their fair share of critical acclaim, neither could hold a match to the band's masterful opus, Hollywood Town Hall (1995).

Was it that album's high watermark that led Olsen to leave at the top of his game, or was it really so that he could spend more time with then-wife, Victoria Williams? One could not blame him, in either case. Life on the road can be hell on even the healthiest of marriages. Thus, when the marriage went belly-up in 2006, count this reviewer among the many who knew it would be just a matter of time before Olsen and the Jayhawks would renew their vows.

With the September release of their first studio album in eight years (and the first in over fifteen years to feature Olsen) Mockingbird Time, the Jayhawks have not only returned, they've returned to form, blowing away 15+ years of cobwebs in the process. Anyone wondering what might have been if Olsen hadn't left the band after Hollywood Town Hall need only dig in to this musical bounty to find their answer.

The great thing about music this timeless is that fifteen years has made the entire band that much more seasoned as players, able to take the songs of Olsen and Gary Louris to new heights.

Over the course of the album, the band integrates early 70's California soft rock with 60's folk and the obligatory Americana stylings for which they are known to create an album that is by far their most ambitious and consistent to date. In doing so, they've raised the bar for all others to match at a time when the Americana/Alt. Country scene is in dire need of a swift kick in the pants.

What's most exciting, though, is that the band didn't just deliver a singer/songwriter record, which they could have easily done and still drawn rave reviews. No, what they did is create a band record that actually recalls The Band at their best, a unit finely tuned and capable of lifting the songs of its members to the heavens and taking the audience right along with them.

Oddly enough, it is the title cut that strikes the most poignant note, not with anthemic bravado and urgency, but with delightful, understated joy. A year from now, I fully expect to have seen this song tapped for a heartwarming commercial, a la The Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize?"

Joyous as many of the songs on Mockingbird Time may be, this is a band reuniting not only with one another, but also with their love of music and, for once, the fans are invited on a musical journey that is not so much driven by nostalgia, but what the future may hold.

FINAL PROGNOSIS: Mockingbird Time is THE SHIT.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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