Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #9 – Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks

The Jayhawks are one of the most respected acts to come out of the early days of the alt-country movement. Led by Gary Louris and Mark Olson, The Jayhwaks won a legion of fans with their Byrds inspired jangle pop/country sound and their extremely tight vocal harmonies. The formula worked to perfection on three wonderful albums… 1989’s Blue Earth, 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall, and 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass.

Despite the band’s success, founding member Olson left the group following the Tomorrow the Green Grass tour to pursue other projects. With the departure of his songwriting and vocal partner, Louris could have called it quits as well, but decided to keep the band together and keep releasing albums under the Jayhawks name.
Critical reviews were split on The Jayhawks first two post-Olson releases… 1997’s Sound of Lies and 2000’s Smile. On these releases, Louris seemed to abandon the group’s signature rootsy blend to explore a sound that drew from more pop and rock influences. Without Olson by his side, Louris took the opportunity to experiment a bit and try to expand his sound. He did so even while many fans were waiting and and hoping for a return to The Jayhawks sound of old.
In 2003, that return came in the form of the album Rainy Day Music.
The album’s opening track, “Stumbling Through the Dark,” begins with a finger picked riff that clearly recalls the band’s Byrdsian influences before settling into a loping country beat. The band’s trademark harmonies reappear here as well. This time, however, Louris blends with drummer Tim O’Reagan instead of Olson.
The next track is “Tailspin,” a song that adds an element of rock to the proceedings all while still featuring banjo (played by Bernie Leadon) and steel guitar. This track, along with the folksy rockers “The Eyes of Sarahjane” and “You Look So Young” go the furthest to remind me of the sound The Jayhawks so masterfully captured on Hollywood Town Hall.
The quieter moments on the disc play well here too. “All the Right Reasons” features harmony vocals from alt-popster Matthew Sweet (who also co-wrote “Stumbling Through the Dark”) and is a touching love song without being saccharine. The album closing trio of “Tampa to Tulsa,” “Will I See You in Heaven,” and “Stumbling Trough the Dark (Acoustic)” also provide a nice easy bookend to the proceedings.
Rainy Day Music doesn’t quite stand up to the level of the work The Jayhawks were doing when Olson and Louris were still a pair, but it does hearken back to that sound. This was also one of the albums that was very instrumental in shaping my appreciation of the Americana genre in the early part of this decade. For that reason, it belongs in my Top 10.
The Jayhawks: Tailspin (Buy Album)
The Jayhawks: All the Right Reasons (Buy Album)

6 Responses to “Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #9 – Rainy Day Music by The Jayhawks”

  1. Stumbled across you via the Hype Machine today; looking forward to the rest of this series! Lve Kathleen Edwards in particular.

  2. With the first two posts in this series dealing with two of the absolute best albums of the decade, I can't wait to read further installments. I was fortunate to see The Jayhawks tour behind this record, with The Thorns opening, no less, in a little motel called The Starlite Motor Court. It was awesome to see both collective bands play “Blue” to close the show and it will stand as one of my favorite concert experiences. Even though it was a bad venue, those guys played their hearts out, and Gary Louris signed my ticket stub after the show, the second time he had done that for me (first was back in 2000 when they were touring behind Smile). He is always gracious to talk to a fan and stands as probably the nicest musician I've ever encountered. Keep up the good work on these posts!

  3. I like Sound of Lies, but two good choices so far.

  4. Your goin' down baby baby…you're in a tailspin.

    Love the blog.

  5. Tailspin and Tampa to Tulsa by two favourite Jayhawks tracks, great choice.

  6. This was the first Jayhawks record I came across, and possibly for that reason, it remains my favorite. I've given Hollywood, Smile, and Tomorrow their fair shot at changing my mind, yet they haven't.

    I was literally in a daze throughout the whole disc when I first heard it – and it still gets me every time. Not a single tract to skip

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