Mark Olson & Gary Louris
“Ready For the Flood”
New West Records
This year at SXSW I had the pleasure of seeing Mark Olson and Gary Louris play together, marking the reunion of the two prominent voices that made up the early nineties alt-country act The Jayhawks. That evening at the Driskill, their voices still shared the same fluid harmony that gives you the full body chills, but something had definitely changed since their last album together, “Tomorrow Green Grass”. 13 years later, their voices now shared a worn exhaustion, gritty yet sopped in wise serenity. While their work with the Jayhawks seemed to be filled with a bright eyed hope, the duo’s sound has now taken on an old man winter approach.
The photographs on their new album “Ready for the Flood” share the same sentiment. While their classic Jayhawks album “Hollywood Town Hall” is adorned with snowy photos of them bundled up in front of a church, an image seeping with Midwestern zeal, “Ready for the Flood” shows the band relaxing in what resembles a retirement bungalow somewhere in Arizona. Like a couple of aging snow birds, the two have escaped the uniform, cold world of their youth and moved to warmer surroundings.
Even the lyrics reflect this same haggard message. In “The Trap’s Been Set” the two voices warble “I’m an old an angry man … when I was young I felt the sun within”. The majority of the songs on their latest are just as catchy and hummable as their past work (“Bicycle” and “Chamberlain, SD” are definite highlights), although the album does have its weak moments, a claim that couldn’t be made during their highest moments in the mid-90s.
For “Ready for the Flood” Chris Robinson (of the Black Crows) stepped in to produce, although the work he did isn’t very evident. It’s not that the production value is bad, it’s just unobtrusive, which I suppose is a good thing in some respects. But part of me wanted the album to resemble the sparse atmosphere that Rick Rubin created on Johnny Cash’s American Recordings. Yes, I know Rubin and Robinson hate each other, but my pitting of the two rivals is completely unintentional.
I wanted this album to seep with age, to hear the same two voices I heard at SXSW, gravelly and earnest. The sounds are still sweet splendor; I just wanted it to spill out my speakers like a finely aged wine.