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Album of the Week: The Jayhawks, 'Paging Mr. Proust'

The Jayhawks - Paging Mr. Proust
The Jayhawks - Paging Mr. ProustSham Records/Thirty Tigers

by Bill DeVille

May 23, 2016

The Jayhawks' first album was released 30 years ago. Founding member Mark Olson left the band after Tomorrow the Green Grass, then returned for Mockingbird Time in 2011, then he left again. The constant of The Jayhawks has been Gary Louris. He's the one with the songs, the guitar prowess and the golden voice.

Paging Mr. Proust, like most of The Jayhawks' albums, features dark songs with the band's signature sunny melodies and their trademark harmonies. But this one feels different. Louris went through treatment for an addiction to painkillers. He mentioned in an interview with Cathy Wurzer on MPR News that, "I didn't do my best work loaded."

From the sounds of the album's lead track, "Quiet Corners and Empty Spaces," the Jayhawks' best work might be ahead of them — this one is classic Jayhawks! I would argue that this jangly little tune is one of the 10 best songs they've ever recorded. You might find a tear in your eye and a slight smile on your face as Louris and a choir of harmonies sing, "Hey now, catch me quick before I walk away / Tell me if there is something I should say / I find the quiet corners and the empty spaces."

The Jayhawks could have rested on the tried and true, country-rock influenced sound of their Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass albums. Instead, with Peter Buck of R.E.M. fame behind the console, they fly in a few different directions on Paging Mr. Proust. "Ace," for example, features an almost trippy Krautrock groove; this one might be the most daring tune of the band's long career. Meanwhile, "Lost In Summer," has a heavier and darker tone than the Jayhawks' usual fare, and "Comeback Kids" shows hints of electronica.

Paging Mr. Proust is an album full of adventure, but there is still plenty of that classic Jayhawks sound to hang your hat on. There are gems like "Lovers of the Sun," which has that breezy, '70s pop feel that Louris has always had a fondness for. "Isabel's Daughter" has those signature boy/girl harmonies courtesy of Louris, drummer Tim O'Reagan and the band's secret weapon, keyboardist Karen Grotberg.

The Jayhawks sound like a band looking to the future without forgetting their past. I can't wait to hear what they do next!