After leaving the pioneering roots ensemble the Jayhawks, Mark Olson married singer-songwriter Victoria Williams and retreated to the California desert where he fronted a loose collaborative called The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers. Sadly but predictably, Olson's post-Jayhawks work has been spotty and unfocused; the voice that once sounded so remarkably like that of the late, great Gram Parsons somehow became an underwhelming whine.
The Salvation Blues is being touted as Olson's first true solo album; and while that is stretching the truth a bit, it's difficult not to be so bowled over by the new songs as to simply forgive such questionable semantics. Not since The Blue Earth, the Jayhawks' landmark second effort, has Olson sounded so invigorated. A songwriter of unique vision, Olson brings it all back home on songs such as "Clifton Bridge," "Tears From Above" and "Sandy Denny." Returning to the beautifully obscure, poetic symbolism of his early work, Olson has crafted 11 tracks that speak (vaguely) of the breakup of his marriage, the loss of the house he built and the two years he spent virtually homeless.
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"Where is my home? How could I lose this in a day," Olson sings on "National Express" as a crack band featuring guitarist Tony Gilkson and former Jayhawk Gary Louris create the perfect subdued accompaniment. The Salvation Blues features few choruses. It is a record all about verses, narrative, storytelling and the truth that can sometimes be found in poignant recollection.