Let’s leave history to the professors and not witter on about the past and previous of the Jayhawks (the Americana band Mark Olson co-founded) or the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers (with Victoria Williams, Olson’s now ex-wife), but focus on the present, Good-bye Lizelle. Recorded in apartments, cabins and outdoors in national parks using Olson’s portable Nagra recording system, this recent Glitterhouse album has a warm sonic atmosphere and an international flavour from the influences picked up on travels to Armenia, South Africa and Norway (amongst other countries).
Olson is joined for much of the album by Norwegian singer and multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringvold (who has recorded three albums under the name of Sailorine); between the two of them they play acoustic guitar, dulcimer, djembe, qanon, clavinova keyboard, bass and harmonium — though obviously not all at once. The wide variety and choice of instruments gives the album a stimulating feel (opener “Lizelle Djan”, for example, combines non-mainstream instrumentation with a modern dramatic vocal). There’s a distinct flirtation with Eastern European rhythms and vocal melody lines; “Running Circles”, “Say You Are the River” and “Jesse In An Old World” float ethereally with ambitious complexity.
Olson and Ringvold’s voices blend well together (particularly on the melodic “Heaven’s Shelter”, “All These Games” and “Cherry Thieves”), fortunate perhaps because Olson and Ringvold are also husband and wife, and there’s nothing worse than being mismatched to your significant other. Olson’s own vocals glide and swoop effortlessly and his singing takes some startling experimental risks with some deep low notes and unexpected highs.
Lyrically, the songs are enigmatic and tend towards the abstract (“We wear pieces of clothes from someone else’s life”), but in their impressionistic way make an odd type of sense. As a complete listening experience, it’s a little like being immersed in someone else’s dream; “Heaven’s Shelter” suggests “everybody knows how to fly”, unlikely to be factually correct, but a charming song and performance nonetheless.
It’s difficult to say that there’s a central theme to the album, although in the main the record focuses on love (which has a way of “changing the days”), relationships and the impermanence of life. “Long Distance Runner” (dedicated to the “Czech Locomotive”, athlete Emil Zátopek) takes a philosophical stance on running, so that life becomes “a lonely race that we run with a broken heart”. “Which World Is Ours?” combines idiosyncratic, personal detail with some universal imagery to create broad appeal. There is undoubtedly a poetic stance, and indeed Olson suggests in “The Go-Between Butterfly” that “poetry songs are rising”. We can only live in hope.
However this is by no means a quiet, introspective record: “Poison Oleander” is upbeat and funky, and overall there’s a community feel to the album with guests such as Neal Casal, Aaron Sterling and Danny Frankel making Good-bye Lizelle a warm, shared endeavour. And yes, this one’s a grow’er not a show’er, requiring some patience; turn off all those modern telecommunications devices, throw away your me-machines, and bask in some old-school sound.