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Kenji Yamamoto

Kenji Yamamoto

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Minneapolis' Jayhawks had a few things in common with Uncle Tupelo, the other trailblazing Americana band that emerged in the late '80s: Both were inspired by indie rock and vintage country, both were eventually produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. And both bands were fueled by the give-and-take of the two leaders, who in the Jayhawks' case were singer/songwriters Gary Louris and Mark Olson. The main difference is that the Jayhawks sustained an ongoing career, surviving the separations and reconnections of the frontmen. The band was spawned in the Minneapolis indie world, with an original lineup of Louris, Olson, bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Norm Rogers. After a self-titled debut (known to fans as the "boathouse album" due to its cover photo) their second indie album, Blue Earth was released on Twin/Tone, the label that had launched the Replacements. This led to their signing with Def American and the release of Hollywood Town Hall, their first to get national attention. With the harmonies and guitars upfront, it harked back to a long line of country-rock acts from the Everly Brothers to the Eagles, and was critically praised as an antidote to the grunge movement. Though only a modest commercial...

Minneapolis' Jayhawks had a few things in common with Uncle Tupelo, the other trailblazing Americana band that emerged in the late '80s: Both were inspired by indie rock and vintage country, both were eventually produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. And both bands were fueled by the give-and-take of the two leaders, who in the Jayhawks' case were singer/songwriters Gary Louris and Mark Olson. The main difference is that the Jayhawks sustained an ongoing career, surviving the separations and reconnections of the frontmen. The band was spawned in the Minneapolis indie world, with an original lineup of Louris, Olson, bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Norm Rogers. After a self-titled debut (known to fans as the "boathouse album" due to its cover photo) their second indie album, Blue Earth was released on Twin/Tone, the label that had launched the Replacements. This led to their signing with Def American and the release of Hollywood Town Hall, their first to get national attention. With the harmonies and guitars upfront, it harked back to a long line of country-rock acts from the Everly Brothers to the Eagles, and was critically praised as an antidote to the grunge movement. Though only a modest commercial success, the follow-up Tomorrow the Green Grass was likewise critically celebrated, and "Blue" and "Miss Williams' Guitar" (the latter about Olson's wife-to-be, songwriter Victoria Williams) were college radio hits. The album introduced Karen Grotberg, whose keyboards and harmonies would become key to the sound. After their marriage Olson left the Jayhawks and the band's sound evolved with Louris taking the reins, becoming more pop and less country-tellingly their first non-Olson album Sound of Lies included a song called "Big Star" (though it was about stardom, not the band of that name). Country was phased out altogether for 2000's Smile and then reintroduced with Rainy Day Music which saw ex-Long Ryder Stephen McCarthy joining on guitar. In a surprising turn, the Jayhawks went on hiatus while Louris and Olson reunited, featuring the band's older material on an acoustic tour. The band then reformed with Olson back in the lineup, releasing 2011's Mockingbird Time-- the spiritual cousin of the first two albums, and the best-selling Jayhawks release. Olson continued recording for the next album, the Buck-produced Paging Mr. Proust, but he left early in the sessions and Louris again took the band in a more eclectic direction. 2018 brought the Jayhawks album Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, whose songs were drawn from Louris' collaborations with Jakob Dylan, Natalie Maines and others. Another notable collaboration happened the same year when the Jayhawks were the main band on ex-Kink Ray Davies' two connected Americana albums.

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