Mark Olson & Gary Louris

Ready for the Flood (New West)

Minnesota's Jayhawks—co-led by singer-songwriters/guitarists Gary Louris and Mark Olson—were one of the finest bands to come out of the No Depression movement, carried aloft by the duo's trademark rough-hewn high harmonies.

So when Olson flew the coop in 1995 (mostly to collaborate with then-wife Victoria Williams), Louris soldiered on as the 'Hawks delved into rock (Sound of Lies), pop (Smile) and back to the country (the underrated Rainy Day Music). Now, Ready for the Flood comes off not so much as a reunion, but a natural continuation resting on a three-legged stool of close harmonies, poetic (if a bit obtuse) lyrics and finely spare acoustic picking.

Maturity has made the duo's sometimes achingly fragile vocal blend a bit shakier, but it adds character and realism—so what if they're not always on the exact same pitch? It's these grooves and pits that make "The Rose Society," "Turn Your Pretty Name Around" and the gorgeous "My Gospel Song for You" interesting. The few revved-up numbers—"Chamberlain, S.D.," "Doves and Stones" and the Charlie Louvin-inspired murder ballad "Bloody Hands"—also offer a nice little jolt. Producing is The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, a longtime friend who wisely keeps things spare with an occasional organ flourish, brushy drums, harmonica melody and understated bass—much like he did on his own solo record, New Earth Mud. That album was a perfect Sunday-morning record, and Ready for the Flood makes a fine companion.

It's not a Jayhawks record, but something entirely finer—and fresh.

 
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