Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Jayhawks 1: The Bunkhouse Album

By the mid-‘80s, American country music was in a period of transition. The “urban cowboy” phase of a few years before had become a stereotype, and while more serious “artists” like Rosanne Cash and Lyle Lovett were slowly emerging as influential, most legacy artists were struggling in the mainstream.
But in the heartland of the United States, younger bands were discovering Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and especially the late Gram Parsons, whose brand of “cosmic American music” provided an easier foothold into country rock than the latest Nashville syrup. These kids adopted the songs and styles, without a drop of parody in their interpretations. One of those bands was the Jayhawks, started by Minnesotan Mark Olson, whose voice came straight from the Flying Burrito Brothers, and blended so well with that of lead guitarist Gary Louris it was sometimes hard to tell the two apart.
Their self-titled album was only pressed in a run of two thousand, but word of mouth would eventually spread to the point where the so-called “Bunkhouse Album”—due to the cover art and the band’s self-assigned label—commanded high dollars on the used vinyl market. Not until 2010 did it get widespread release, which is how we managed to finally hear it.
It’s definitely twangy, with more overt country touches than their later albums, but the elements of what made the Jayhawks are all there. The likes of “Falling Star”, “Tried And True”, and “Cherry Pie” seem derivative, but “Let The Critics Wonder” and “Good Long Time” show off a unique voice. “Let The Last Night Be The Longest (Lonesome Memory)”, “The Liquor Store Came First”, “Misery Tavern”, and “Six Pack On The Dashboard” manage to take the drinkin’ song to new levels, while “Behind Bars” and “(I’m Not In) Prison” work on another trope and “People In This Place On Every Side” and “King Of Kings” play on the gospel elements of classic country. Again, these may seem like they’re poking fun at the more hokum elements of the genre, but time would prove their reverence.

The Jayhawks The Jayhawks (1986)—3

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