New Jayhawks Album: “Paging Mr. Proust”

News of a new Jayhawks album is always cause for celebration in my house. The band will be releasing Paging Mr. Proust this coming week on April 29, 2016, and from the first single, “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,” it sounds like the album will have the harmonies and catchy tunes we are used to hearing from the band.

The Jayhawk’s last album of new material was Mockingbird Time, released in 2011. That album saw Mark Olson rejoining Gary Louris and Tim O’Reagan on the album, but Olson soon departed again. The band has made some great music since it formed with Olson as well as bass player Marc Perlman, so I hate to see Olson’s departure again after an unhappy split.

But the Jayhawks historically have shown that the group can make great music without Olson too, as they did on albums like Rainy Day Music (2003), Smile (2000), and Sound of Lies (1997). So I am hoping the rest of the band pulls it off again.

In addition O Louris, O’Reagan, and Perlman, longtime Jayhawks member Karen Grotberg (vocals and keyboard) also returns on the new album. Below is the first single, “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces.” Check it out.

Paging Mr. Proust was produced by R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists). R.E.M.’s Mike Mills contributed vocals to the song “Leaving The Monsters Behind.” Paging Mr. Proust hits stores and the Internet on April 29.

What is your favorite Jayhawks album? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    Song of the Day: “The Weekend” by David Rawlings Machine

    The David Rawlings Machine recently released its second album, Nashville Obsolete (2015). In the video for the lead track on the album, “The Weekend,” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch take us on a fast road trip from Nashville to California.

    Before The David Rawlings Machine released its first album A Friend of a Friend in 2009, David Rawlings already had an established music career doing things like producing Old Crow Medicine Show and co-writing songs with Ryan Adams such as “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High).”

    Now Rawlings is making great music with Gillian Welch with harmonies that remind me of the Jayhawks. Check out the video for “The Weekend.”

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

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    New Music from Ryan Adams and The Jayhawks

    When I read that the Americana Music Association recently gave the Artist of the Year Award to Buddy Miller, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I love Buddy Miller’s work as well as his new CD, so I am always glad to see him get the recognition he deserves. On the other hand, I did not even know there were Americana Music Association Awards, and I wondered what is the status of Americana music — or alt-country — two decades after writers started using the terminology to describe a type of music. There is a lot that may be said, and Chimesfreedom may revisit the topic in the future. For now, one answer is provided in new releases by two giants of the field, Ryan Adams and The Jayhawks.

    Mockingbird Time (2011) by The Jayhawks: The new CD by the Jayhawks created much excitement with the return of Mark Olson to the band for the first recording since the classic Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995). I was excited too, but in looking through my CD collection, I was surprised to learn that I had not missed a CD from the band’s catalog, and that I do love all of the albums, including the ones without Olson where Gary Louris continued to lead the band in interesting directions. I have been listening to the new CD for several weeks because it often takes many listens before I know how much I like a new album. The new CD does capture some of the magic of Tomorrow the Green Grass, although I have yet to fall in love with the new music as much as I did with some of the songs on the 1995 album. For me, the new album does not exceed the Olson-less Smile and Sound Of Lies, but I realize that many fans prefer this version of the band. Below is “Closer to Your Side,” one of the highlights of the new album:

    Ashes & Fire by Ryan Adams: Like The Jayhawks CD, a new Ryan Adams CD has to compete with a back catalog of great albums and music. When I first heard Heartbreaker (2000) and Gold (2001), I immediately fell in love with the albums and could not stop hitting the replay button. I had a similar reaction to his work with Whiskeytown. Ashes & Fire, Adams’s latest effort, did not immediately grab me like those albums, but it is a solid effort with some great (“Lucky Now”) and almost-great (“Ashes & Fire”) songs.

    The opening lines of the first song on Ashes & Fire, “Dirty Rain” (““Last time I was here it was raining / It isn’t raining anymore”) even evoke the opening cadence of the superior classic “Oh My Sweet Carolina” from Heartbreaker. I have always been more of a fan of Adams’s country-ish and upbeat songs over his contemplative slow songs (or his digressions into other genres). This new album stays close to alt-country but delves into his slower folk side too. But it continues to grow on me like some of his other albums that started out okay for me but that I later came to love, like Jacksonville City Nights (2005). So I am reserving judgment and plan to enjoy the CD many more times.

    Conclusion? Many of the great “alt-country” artists of the last few decades continue to record great work (even if one may classify the music in different categories). If you are a fan of Ryan Adams and/or The Jayhawks, you will like the return to form on their new CDs, which are both solid enjoyable efforts. If you are not familiar with their work, though, you might want to start with some of their other albums. But either way, these new CDs are a fine addition to already fantastic catalogs. For Ryan Adams, who was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease five years ago, the return is especially triumphant.

    Bonus Reviews, Because Why Should You Trust Me?: For a detailed mixed review of Ryan Adams’s Ashes & Fire, check out Pitchfork. For a positive review, check out Popmatters. By contrast, Popmatters gave a mixed review to Mockingbird Time by The Jayhawks. Consequence of Sound argues that The Jayhawks almost get it right.

    What do you think of the new music from Ryan Adams and The Jayhawks? Leave a comment.

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    A Pop Culture Tribute to the End of the Terror Color Levels

    Starting last Thursday, the U.S. Homeland Security Department began phasing out the color-coded terror-threat system that was created after September 11, 2001. The system will end completely by April 26, 2011. The national level has been at yellow (elevated) since 2006, with air flights being at orange (high risk).

    Hopefully, in the future, anyone born after today will not know anything about this system. For posterity, here is a popular culture explanation of the meaning behind all of the colors:

    * Red: severe risk: When we are at this level, it is like the days when we thought the communists were taking over and were going to attack. Panic time. (The movie Reds, starring Warren Beatty.)

    * Orange: high risk: This level is like being locked in prison. You cannot go anywhere.  (“Orange Blossom Special” at San Quentin, by Johnny Cash.)

    * Yellow: Elevated – significant risk: When you are at this level, it is a little bit better than being in prison, as you may leave your room, but you still cannot go out. It is like being in a submarine.  (“Yellow Submarine” by the Beatles.) 

    * Blue: Guarded – general risk: It’s better than the options above, but you’re still a little sad.  (“Blue” by the Jayhawks.)

    * Low (green): low risk: This is a happy level, like living with puppets. But it’s not easy to get this green level.  (“It’s Not Easy Being Green,” by Kermit the Frog.)

    In all seriousness, I recommend the movie and the songs above. But if you only watch one, check out “Blue” by the Jayhawks. It is a great song with an introduction by a very young Jon Stewart.

    Here’s to hoping we never hear anything more about terror levels again.

    Will you miss the terror colors? Leave a comment.