Out There

To tell the truth

Sound of Lies
The Jayhawks
American Recordings

Their performance at South by Southwest put to rest any rumors that the Jayhawks couldn't survive the defection of co-leader Mark Olson--at least as a live band. Remaining stud Gary Louris proved himself wonderfully autonomous at that show, and a re-vamped Jayhawks shimmered convincingly that wintry night on the Stubbs' Barbecue outdoor stage.

The next question was whether the band could sustain that magic over the course of an entire album of new material, and, indeed, Sound of Lies confirms several things: 1) the Jayhawks are as strong, melodic, and pithy as ever, 2) it's Louris--not Olson--who has that ranging, plaintive, yearning voice one immediately associated with the band on such previous hits as "Blue" or "I'd Run Away," and 3) as a songwriter, Louris has much more in common with Brian Wilson (pre-dope) and Badfinger's Pete Ham than he does with any of the old-line country-roots rockers (like Gram Parsons or the Band) to whom the earlier version of the Jayhawks was continually compared.

Olson, in other words, was the more honky-tonk aspect of that band, while Louris was the one providing those instant-gratification, old-style AM radio hooks.

Which is OK; as originators--along with Uncle Tupelo--of that Midwestern, roots-hillbilly-pop movement that spawned such bands as Wilco, Son Volt, and the Old 97's, the Jayhawks iced their place in rock history. By now, though, "insurgent country" has surpassed "Gen X" as an irritating catchphrase, and to hear it utilized in hip repartee is agonizingly reminiscent of those cretins who wittily cry "Show me the money!" only a decade or so after they waxed kooky by screeching "Where's the beef?"

So it's actually a pleasure to take Sound of Lies on its own terms--which is to say, it's a pop album fairly barren of any obtuse country influences. Nick Lowe made Pure Pop for Now People in 1978; Sound of Lies is pure pop for the Now People's children. "The Man Who Loved Life," "Think About It," and "Big Star" are crawl-in-your-brain-and-stay-there examples of pop, but less hooky tunes like "Stick in the Mud," "Haywire," "Sixteen Down," and drummer Tim O'Reagan's "Bottomless Cup" reveal intricacy after subtle intricacy.

But Louris is no one-man band. The contributions of keyboardist-vocalist Karen Grotberg, whose textures define much of the Jayhawks' sound, and the work of bassist Mark Perlman, who co-wrote with Louris many of the CD's finer tunes, capably emphasize the concept of an ensemble at work.

--Rick Koster

 
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