The Jayhawks – [Album]

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

While it didn't exactly sell in earth-shattering numbers at the time of its' release, Hollywood Town Hall did establish a foothold in the public consciousness for The Jayhawks and at least proved that the band wouldn't dry up under a little bit of limelight, The album reached number eleven on Billboard's Heatseekers chart and developed a bit of a buzz around the band, and that must have told the group's label that there might be something to them after all. Their label's confidence in them is the first thing that's noticeably different about Tomorrow The Green Grass; The Jayhawks' sophomore effort for American is instantly marked by a larger production budget (as evidenced by the string section which pokes in and out of most every song in the album's run-time) and, as a result, a much bigger sound. For some bands, such a difference wouldn't mean much. At the end of the day, a band with backing still has to write good songs or the album will still tank as hard as the worst record on the market – but there's no doubt that The Jayhawks responded positively to the assistance, because each of the album's thirteen songs was a sure winner when it was first released on February 14, 1995.

From the opening acoustic build of “Blue,” The Jayhawks tap into a classic, timeless folk wisdom that combines heartbreak, resolve and hope for a better day (someday) with time-honored vocal devices (high but never lonesome intertwining melodies, notably) and reflective acoustic guitar licks that will instantly nail listeners right between the eyes and hold them captivated. That spell endures through songs including “I'd Run Away,” “Two Hearts,” “Over My Shoulder” and “See Him On The Street”  as singers Gary Louris and Mark Olson effortlessly toss out beautiful songs of love and forlorn disenchantment, only breaking stride to insert the odd humble rocker (like “Miss Williams' Guitar,” “Real Light” and “Nothing Left To Borrow”) for good measure. Whether rocking or confessing though, both the singers and the band manage to keep a consistent tone along the way through though; as was the case on this album's predecessor, there are no heroics here and the guiding principle is to make sure that no one even wants to check out of this run-time early. It's a tall order, but The Jayhawks manage it with an ease that borders on not even trying.

For the sixteenth anniversary of Tomorrow The Green Grass, both American Recordings and Legacy have unearthed a tremendous number of extras left in the vaults from around the time of the album's creation, and included them with the Legacy Edition reissue. Immediately following the original run-time of the album, listeners are treated to a taste of the album's raucous title track as well as “Last Cigarette” (both of which appeared as B-sides) before going deeper into a set of three previously unreleased cuts.

As was the case with the extras appended to Hollywood Town Hall, it can only be said that the previously unreleased songs attached to disc one of this set were left off of the album for a reason. “You And I (Ba-Ba-Ba)” is a fairly disposable, lugubrious pop tune that one would expect to hear from Sloan or The Beatles, but the song flags pretty quickly because The Jayhawks simply do not have the same kind of pop sensibility as either of those bands; here, both Louris and Olson just end up sounding petulant as they seethe through a set of “Ba-Ba-Ba”s that sound reasonably soft and perfectly pointless – and judging by the tones of their voices, the singers know it. Business picks up dramatically for both “Sweet Hobo Self” and “Sleep While You Can,” which both find the band rocking harder than they ever have previously – albeit in a very Cheap Trick sort of way. There's no arguing that both of the harder rocking numbers are a gratifying change of pace for those who crave a bit of variety, but for those longer-time fans who want their Jayhawks simple, the extra songs on disc one will simply be a trifle.

Those same simple-seeking fans will flock to disc two of the Legacy Edition reissue of Tomorrow The Green Grass though. Entirely comprised of a collection of “Mystery Demos” done to hammer the knicks and dings out of the songs that would eventually become Tomorrow The Green Grass, Disc Two presents the fact that, while the extra strings and other accoutrements attached to the album's tracks may have initially been taken as the big, symphonic step for The Jayhawks, they exist because the songs began life as Country & Western tunes. From the very opening of “Pray For Me,” bracing fiddles appear where later there would be larger orchestrations. This will truly be an epiphany-inspiring turn for fans who thought they new Tomorrow The Green Grass inside out; stripped of the muscle, confidence and extra trappings which would later help to knock The Jayhawks up a couple of notches, songs like “Over My Shoulder,” “Blue” (with its' longer-form name, “Blue From Now On” here) and “Red's Song” all show that there wasn't much in any of the songs that The Jayhawks didn't plan on before the final Green Grass was pressed, and that's a fascinating development.

Without meaning to overstate the point, it does go without saying that this Legacy Edition of Tomorrow The Green Grass will be an enlightening experience for both new and old fans alike. Here, new fans can get acquainted with the album that proved there was a trend forming behind each successive Jayhawks release in the years between 1992 and 2000 (each record got progressively better received) and, for those who already knew the band to be something special, there are hints of flat-out, unparalleled brilliance to be found.



The Legacy Edition reissue of Tomorrow The Green Grass is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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