The Jayhawks

Smile

by David Fufkin

 

There is a little sticker on the CD that says: “Named one of the most influential bands of the decade by Rolling Stone and Spin.” I would agree with that, and Smile is another chapter in this band’s legacy, one that they should be proud of.

The reason for the above statement is that some credit The Jayhawks with jump starting the No Depression, alternative country roots rock movement, along with bands like Uncle Tupelo (which morphed into Wilco and Son Volt). Airy, country rock melodies, highlighted by beautiful harmonies, were a staple of their recordings, starting with their first indie release on Twin-Tone, continuing on with their first major label release, Hollywood Town Hall, and culminating in their last release with Mark Olson, the classic, Tomorrow the Green Grass. After Olson left, the band went through a transition period, releasing the CD Sound of Lies, a release that was far more pop/rock oriented. Some loved it; some considered it an abandonment of their roots rock fans. Not too many disagreed that the band was still a huge creative force with Louris at the helm.

And now Smile merely crystallizes why they are great with a capital G.

Great bands write simple songs with simple chords that are melodic, building to great choruses. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Most bands cannot do this, but the Jayhawks succeed where lesser talents fail. Listen to the opening track: “Smile”. Nice verse, then BIG CHORUS building with HUGE STRINGS. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”: another BIG CHORUS song with a section in the middle of the song that sounds identifiably different. It is called, in musical terms, a bridge or a middle 8. The Beatles did it; Buddy Holly did it, and all great writers have mastered this format. “What Led Me to This Town”: beautiful call back backing vocals. This repeats on almost every track, except for those where they used sampled drums. Those tracks didn’t work for me.

There are the touching, simple lyrical moments. Like in “A Break In The Clouds” when Louris sings: “...every time that I see your face, it’s like cool, cool water running down my back.” It repeats many times. Well, I feel the water and I see her face. I’m there, Gary. Thanks for sharing that.

Or the cathartic, purging moments like on “Life Floats By” over a wall of guitars: “...in my mind, in my soul, I never really loved you.” The way Gary is playing, I believe it.

And that is the essence of The Jayhawks: sincerity, simplicity, real skill, melodic, and always musical in a classic sense. Smile is just another piece of excellent work by them. Buy it today.

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