A loved-up slice of Americana from the Jayhawks co-founder.
Martin Aston 2010-12-31
With great timing, just a week before the release of deluxe versions of The Jayhawks’ third and fourth albums – 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall and 1995’s Tomorrow the Green Grass – co-founder Mark Olson’s second solo album emerges. Both albums were modest masterpieces of bittersweet, pained rock’n’western, and Olson left after the latter, to spend more time with his future ex-wife (and fellow singer-songwriter) Victoria Williams, who had MS. Olson’s seven albums as The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers were followed by 2007’s solo, downbeat The Salvation Blues, inspired by his divorce. Having survived, Many Colored Kite is the aftermath, inspired by new girlfriend, Norwegian singer-songwriter Ingunn Ringvold. You can see the headline – Downbeat Americana Poet Finds Happiness, Shocker!
We shouldn’t begrudge anyone happiness – in fact, we should all demand some of the good vibrations he’s clearly got. But that still doesn’t condone lines such as, “A morning dove camped beside my door / Oh I’ll light up my candle and praise the love and the light of the day.” That’s Morning Dove, while other titles – Little Bird of Freedom, The Bluebell Song – might put you on guard, but the good news is they could be Jayhawks demos, rustic and weathered with shapely country-tainted choruses. The music is unfussy and lean (Olson’s core support is trusted Ryan Adams associate and songwriter Neal Casal and drummer Danny Frankel), and Olson’s yearning voice always has a melancholic waver and crack in it, so Morning Dove sounds wistful and sleepy than clappy-happy-precious.
Some vintage Brit-folk settings also help. Vashti Bunyan adds pale backing vocals to No Time to Live Without Her while Beehive’s acoustic guitar/strings are very Nick Drake. And not everyone has to feel like Drake to pull it off. Scholastica (pardon?) sounds like it’s crept in from the prairie, battered by the wind. By this point, the warmth of Olson’s disposition has won out, especially since he’s run out of toe-curling lyrics (I’m ignoring “My eyes see you each day side by side / Milk and honey that flows from within”). We should congratulate him for a unique experience – a loved-up slice of Americana. Will we ever see the like again?