When alt. country icons the Jayhawks came onto most people’s radar more than a decade ago, many thought the band was the result of the work of Mark Olson and Gary Louris, the two principal members of the band. And they wouldn’t be mistaken entirely with such an assumption. But just as vital and integral to the band was the work that Tim O’Reagan did, even if the limelight didn’t really shine a lot on him. O’Reagan has probably heard all the sad, stale jokes about drummers before. What a lot of people haven’t heard though is this collection of songs—songs that make you yearn for the FM radio of the ‘70s. O’Reagan gracefully opens this album with “These Things” that could have come from a songbook co-authored by Paul Simon and James Taylor. It’s a light but sweet pop number that is bright and sunny. And rather than play things up a bit, O’Reagan keeps it all rather straight-laced, although he does whistle during the bridge briefly.
O’Reagan has been around long enough to know what makes for a great song and a great record, so he picks the pace up with the lovely, roots-y “Black & Blue” that falls somewhere between Golden Smog, Wilco, and the Jayhawks, with a pinch of Tom Petty to boot. The musician has captured those intangibles that make alt. country a bit like the aural equivalent of porn—you know it when you hear it. Some guitar accents and a harmonica only make the song terribly warm and inviting. O’Reagan gets some help from his fellow Jayhawks on the album, and a number which seems suited to their style is the steady, but stellar “River Bends” that is as close to Americana perfection as one can aspire to. Although it has a music box dancer opening to a certain extent, it’s the type of song you just close your eyes to and savor until it’s over and done with. If that’s not your cup of tea (and I haven’t the foggiest why it wouldn’t be), the musician takes it down a notch with the world-weary and downbeat “Highway Flowers”, which brings to mind Jagger and Richards circa “Angie”, trying to fill the album up with what they think is a throwaway tune, but ends up being a definite keeper.
Another asset to the album is its consistency, particularly on the precious singer-songwriter delivery of “Anybody’s Only” that comes complete with female harmonies and an earthy, somewhat folksy feel seeping out of it. The fact he sounds a bit like the Beatles on this song (particularly Mr. Lennon) does nothing to diminish the effort. From there though, O’Reagan stumbles just a bit with the rather heady vibe on “That’s the Game” which seems like the album’s black sheep ... not horrid but comes off as being out of place. Somewhere in between this track and the great ones is “Ivy”. Here, O’Reagan can’t get his falsetto high enough, bringing to mind a Texarkana version of the Bee Gees. Thankfully it’s a wake-up call for the artist as he gets back to alt. country basics with a pleasing “Girl/World” that has enough pop smarts to make it soar from start to finish in the vein of Roger McGuinn or the Byrds.
There’s a hint of Parisian café at the opening of the album, but it quickly goes away, though O’Reagan revisits this for a quirky number entitled “Ocaso Rosa”, the lone instrumental on the album that sounds like a cross between Paris and Jamaica, with its relaxing reggae-like pacing. And the artist doesn’t go out with a whimper but with a Beatles-like bang during “Plaything”. O’Reagan might not release another solo album anytime soon, and if that’s the case, it’s a damn shame judging by what he’s offered up here.
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// Notes from the Road
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