Skip to main content

Best Albums of the 2010s: Number 5 - "Back Roads & Abandoned Motels " by The Jayhawks

This was my favourite album of 2018 and an edited version of my original review of appears below. Now we're into the top half we are talking about the best of the best here.

With the benefit of time I'd like to add that the sheer level of craft on display here is staggering. That these songs were written over a period of time rather than specifically for this album maybe helps that, but nonetheless this is songwriting of the highest quality with performances and production to match.

My only sadness is that they've not found it viable to tour over here since the 2016 tour to support the also very good "Paging Mr Proust". I was fortunate enough to see them at the Art School in Glasgow on that run,(solo acoustic guitar version of "Broken Harpoon"!), my fourth time overall, and sincerely hope that won't be the last.
Arriving just over two years after 2016’s “Paging Mr Proust”, the new album from Minnesota’s finest is a departure, in that most but not all of the songs were co-written with other artists. Two Gary Louris originals round out the set. Whilst “Paging Mr Proust” was a return to form after the, in my mind, lacklustre and inconsistent “Mockingbird Time”, this is a step back up to the 1992-2003 heyday.
From the moment the drums and bass guitar strike up an instantly recognisable Jayhawks groove on “Come Cryin’ To Me”, until the final chord of “Leaving Detroit” fades out, this is a treat for fans of the band and anyone who enjoys good music. None of these tracks outstay their welcome, the melodies linger and at least 3 tracks, “Gonna Be A Darkness”, “El Dorado” and “Carry You To Safety” would go straight onto a “Best Of” compilation. “Gonna Be A Darkness” joins Mazzy Star’s “Look On Down From The Bridge” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Land Of Hope & Dreams” as songs that speak to me powerfully about death.
Hearing Karen take a couple of lead vocals is a pleasant surprise. Hopefully we’ll get to see them over in the UK next year, (sadly not; see above), and hear some of these tracks in the flesh.
Whilst only the passage of time will dictate the place this album eventually settles in the band’s canon, it certainly feels like it would sit comfortably just behind “Hollywood Town Hall” and “Rainy Day Music”; their 1997 masterpiece “Sound Of Lies” still standing out as their finest work.
In summary, if you like The Jayhawks, buy this album. If you like “alt-country, Americana, roots rock” or whatever label you’d apply, buy this album.

Comments

Popular Posts

Tuscaloosa by Neil Young & The Stray Gators - Album Review

Shakey's live archive releases continue apace, coming after the excellent "Songs For Judy", (full review here) and the even better "Roxy: Tonight's The Night Live", (full review here). 

This time Neil treats us to excerpts from an Alabama show, (hence the title), from the 1973 tour previously documented on "Time Fades Away". Whilst a commercial success, the tour was fraught due to Young's grief over the drug-induced death of Danny Whitten that led to his masterpieces "Tonight's The Night" and "On The Beach", and his discomfort in translating his sound to the big arenas his success now found him playing. Neil has previously stated that "Time Fades Away" is his worst album. Those of us who have endured "Everybody's Rockin'" or "Landing On Water" might beg to differ....

Anyway another snapshot of that tour emerges here, and an altogether more lighter mood prevails. The autobiographical &…

Songs To Die To - Part 3

Continuing a series about songs death and dying. These are not necessarily songs that talk about the process of dying, rather as the title suggests, songs that I could imagine listening to on my death bed, or taking as consolation during or after a funeral. 

Morbid? I think not, as death is part of life. If we all talked about it a little more, maybe we'd cope with it better.

No 1: featuring "Land Of Hope & Dreams" by Bruce Springsteen here

No 2: featuring "Look On Down From The Bridge" by Mazzy Star here


With that said here's my next choice.


No 3: Gonna Be A Darkness - The Jayhawks

From their superb collection of songs that main man Gary Louris wrote with other artists, (full review here), comes this gem co-written with Jakob Dylan.


I love the extended musical introduction, starting with the mandolin, building with the bass and piano.It sets a lovely relaxed groove that hints at the sadness to come.
Louris and drummer Tim O'Reagan blend their voices beauti…

Eraserland by Strand Of Oaks - Album Review

A new album from Tim Showalter which, barring a final misstep, hits all the Americana, (and more), marks. This album is heartfelt, sleazy, uplifting, classic and referential all at the same time whilst still pointing forwards.

The beginning is inauspicious. "Weird Ways" starts out like a standard Ryan Adams ballad, but takes off halfway through in a way that reveals the pedigree of the other musicians on the album. After hearing this track I thought it sounded like the aforementioned Mr Adams playing with My Morning Jacket(MMJ). The reverb drenched sound kept rearing its head and a little research revealed that, minus main man Jim James, they were the backing musicians on the album . No wonder I kept hearing them! As a band who has produced much that I like this was a good thing. 

After "Weird Ways" heads for the stars we stay there with "Hyperspace Blues" which is one for fans of Jason Pierce's Spiritualized, and sounds just as a song with that title s…

On The Line by Jenny Lewis - Album Review

Arriving with positive notices and an all-star supporting cast that includes a former Beatle in Ringo Starr, a former Heartbreaker in Benmont Tench along with renowned players like Jim Keltner, Don Was and produced by Ryan Adams it would be easy to dismiss such a description as too good to be true.
However, sometimes it is okay to believe the hype..
The 4th solo album from Jenny Lewis is an example of the old adage that misery makes for great art, and is another entry into the canon of great break-up albums.
It is crammed with catchy melodies, expert playing and excellent, if sometimes just a little too cool for school, songwriting. Right from the very start with "Heads Gonna Roll" the sweetness of the melodies is leavened with a perfectly judged dose of underlying menace and bitterness.
Mention has to be given to the Hammond solo from Benmont Tench on this track. The tone is deliciously fat and filthy in the best possible way.
"Wasted Youth" continues with a ridiculous…

Songs To Die To - Part 4

Continuing a series about songs death and dying. These are not necessarily songs that talk about the process of dying, rather as the title suggests, songs that I could imagine listening to on my death bed, or taking as consolation during or after a funeral. 

Morbid? I think not, as death is part of life. If we all talked about it a little more, maybe we'd cope with it better.

No 1: featuring "Land Of Hope & Dreams" by Bruce Springsteen here

No 2: featuring "Look On Down From The Bridge" by Mazzy Star here

No3: featuring "Gonna Be A Darkness" by The Jayhawks here

With that said here's my next choice.

No 4: Everything Flows - Teenage Fanclub

This song is here less for it's explicit subject matter rather than the way it makes me feel.
Certainly the lyrics, "I'll never know which way to flow, set a course that I don't know" talk about journeying, searching and convey an ambiguity that could apply to a passage beyond this life.

This so…

Hello Sunshine by Bruce Springsteen - New Song Review

After the Broadway experience comes a new song, and my initial thoughts upon hearing it were not about this track specifically, but what it means for the upcoming "Western Stars" album in June. As Bruce has said, this is a different type of album, not a rocker but a 'return to sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements'. 


My hope is that we are going to get Bruce's version of "Nashville Skyline", as the track has a laid back, country feel, with a rhythm that immediately evokes "Everybody's Talkin' ". 

Another one of his early influences, the great Roy Orbison, also shines through, and as a defender of "Outlaw Pete" from "Magic", (more on that here), this can only be a good thing. His vocal has a country tinge and the pedal steel and strings complete the image. 

Given his battles with depression, documented in his autobiography, the lines about "being too fond of the blues" and "loving the lonely place&q…

I Am Easy To Find by The National - Album Review

Accompanying a 26 minute film starring Alicia Vikander, for which edited parts of this album comprise the soundtrack, the new album from The National arrives with perhaps impossible expectations.

After the run from "Boxer" through the transcendent heights of "High Violet" to the continued excellence of "Trouble Will Find Me" and "Sleep Well Beast" it has become normal to expect nothing but the best from the indie rock standard bearers. 

Unfortunately, whilst there is much to enjoy here, it is a definite step down from those mentioned above. Perhaps, understandably, wanting to continue to stretch themselves this album suffers from the art project surrounding it. Not a strict soundtrack, but definitely less than a normal album, (whatever that is of course!), too many tracks meander into quickly forgotten homogeneity. Whilst these songs work better in shorter snippets accompanying the film, the album is released as that, an album and needs to be judg…