Ready for the Flood
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Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman
Sadly, though, the Jayhawks failed to get their due while the band was in its prime, and they more or less faded into the sunset and disbanded without anyone bothering to take note. In the last few months or so, both of the band’s former principals – specifically, singer/songwriters Gary Louris and Mark Olson – each released their first solo albums, garnering only modest results while further fueling fans’ desires to see the two men reconnect.
Then, all of a sudden, with no advance word whatsoever, Olson and Louris quickly rebounded and recorded a duet disc that offers occasional hints of their early accomplishments. No, it doesn’t hit the peaks of the aforementioned albums; it’s much too laid back and unadorned to reach that bar. But the fact that it can even be mentioned in the same breath suggests both men are intent on reclaiming their common glories.
Still, those groping for a more accurate frame of reference would be best advised to look elsewhere. When you get right down to it, the album’s downcast approach – two voices, lilting harmonies, a pair of acoustic guitars and only incidental accompaniment – finds them sounding more like the Everly Brothers covering Jackson Browne (as in the case of opening track, “The Rose Society”) or vintage Simon and Garfunkel circa the mid ‘60s (the touching “Life’s Warm Sheets” and the hushed folk finesse of “Saturday Morning on Sunday Street”). The combination of Olson’s high lonesome vocals and Louris’ plaintive meditation gives the album a somber, nocturnal sensibility tempered by half-lit circumstance. The results are manifested mostly as a weary rumble, intersected only occasionally by the rousing, banjo plucking of “Bloody Hands” and the down-home country shuffle of “Chamberlain SD.”
The fact this set sounds so forlorn ought to come as no surprise; after all, even at their peak, the Jayhawks managed to connect heartbreak with the heartland in equal measure. However, what’s also notable this time around is the way producer Chris Robinson, mostly a rabble-rouser in his day job with the Black Crowes, has managed to oversee this project with such a deft touch. So if Ready for the Flood sometimes seems to be drowning in despair, these wistful arrangements still make it a joyful return.