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Album of the Week: The Jayhawks, 'Back Roads And Abandoned Motels'

The Jayhawks, 'Back Roads and Abandoned Motels'
The Jayhawks, 'Back Roads and Abandoned Motels'Legacy Recordings
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by Bill DeVille

July 12, 2018

Gary Louris and I worked together at a Mexican restaurant so long ago that I don't want to say when. Sometime after that, I first heard The Jayhawks, and I've been a fan since. They're an institution, around since dirt, with adoring fans all over the world, especially in Spain and Texas. They've had several different lineups. Bassist Mark Perlman has been the only constant in the band. Even leader Gary Louris left for awhile in the late 1980's, although they've made far more albums with Louris leading the band than co-founder Mark Olson, who originally left the band in 1995, then rejoined in 2011 for Mockingbird Time before leaving for good.

The hook with the new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, is that most of these songs were originally co-written by Gary Louris with other artists, and appear here for the first time by The Jayhawks.

You know they're up to something different when you hear longtime pianist/vocalist Karen Grotberg on the lead vocal on the first track "Come Cryin' to Me," which Natalie Maines from Dixie Chicks recorded on a solo record. This one features a Memphis soul feel, full of horns and those 'hawks harmonies, which have always been their moneymaker.

The Jayhawks really utilize their voices on Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. Both Grotberg and drummer Tim O'Reagan have a couple turns on lead vocal. By the third song, three different Jayhawks have taken the mic.

You hear less of Gary's trusty Gibson SG guitar licks, which gives the songs more breathing room for those signature harmonies, which are all over "Everybody Knows," sounding like classic Jayhawks with Louris' sweet voice. This one first appeared on the Dixie Chicks' 2006 Grammy winning Taking the Long Way. It's cool to hear The Jayhawks version!

Another one of the Dixie Chicks co-writes is "Bitter End." With the unexpected fiddle, it's the most country song I've heard from The Jayhawks since the Blue Earth album from the early days.

Back Roads And Abandoned Motels was recorded in just 2 sessions at Flowers Studio in Minneapolis. They didn't overthink this one, which adds to its charm. The Jayhawks have been making music for 30 plus years, and still make great records.


The Jayhawks - Official Site