Essential Albums: Hollywood Town Hall by the Jayhawks

I found this item last week while poking around on Paste Magazine’s website.

Remember a few years back when Gary Louris and Mark Olson of the Jayhawks reunited for a concert tour and supposedly recorded some new material? It seems that new material will finally be released this September (EDIT: The release date now seems to be January ’09) from Hacktone (New West) Records. The CD will be titled Ready for the Flood and was recorded in January of 2007 with producer Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes. The album will also feature appearances from Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley and Susanna Hoffs of the Bangles. It’s the first full album Louris and Olson have released together since Olson left the Jayhawks after the release of 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass. The project will not be released under the Jayhawks name, but this is good news nevertheless.

While I am excited about the prospect of new music from the duo that powered one of my favorite acts… this post is about one of my favorite albums. Hollywood Town Hall was released by The Jayhawks in 1992 on Def American Records. I mentioned this album briefly in last week’s post on Tift Merritt, but it really needs its own post.

The first thing that stands out to you when listening to this album are the vocals of Gary Louis and Mark Olson. It isn’t so much that either of them truly captivate you on their own, although both have serious vocal chops. It’s the sounds that are formed when their voices join together. Subtle harmonies soar through the chorus of each song, and shared lead vocals pepper several tracks. On “Sister Cry” the voices diverge through the chorus with Olson chiming with a counter melody overtop of Louris, who is singing the main line. When the chorus ends, the voices blend together again to share the next verse. At times they blend so perfectly together, it’s hard to tell that two people are singing. It’s a phenomenon that Jayhawks fans refer to as “The Univoice.”

The album shows the influence of legendary acts such as Gram Parsons and the Byrds, R.E.M., and CSNY. It also shares ground with contemporaries such as Wilco and Son Volt. This is surely what Gram Parsons envisioned when he began practicing what he called “Cosmic American Music” in the 60s. Elements of pop, rock, and country blend seamlessly together under a fuzz of Rickenbackers and inspired harmonies to create a classic sound and a classic album.

It will be nice to see if Louris and Olson can recapture that classic sound on their new project. But while we’re getting Ready for the Flood, it’s nice to know that we can keep “Waiting for the Sun.”

The Jayhawks: Waiting for the Sun (Buy Album)
The Jayhawks: Sister Cry (Buy Album)

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