Concerts and Shows at The Magic Bag
The Jayhawks with Harrow Fair
Sunday, November 24 - Doors 8pm - $32 adv.
It's the start of a brand new adventure." sings Gary Louris on "Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces," the opening track on The Jayhawks' new album Paging Mr. Proust. The band itself is not brand new, having formed in Minneapolis in 1985, the album shows a commitment to adventure and forward motion which makes this collection of songs exciting and instantly memorable.
I am 44 years old this year, and have been a Jayhawks fan since 1986, when I was in high school. I grew up in Minneapolis, and was enthralled by the rock and roll bands coming out of my hometown. The Jayhawks are the band from this era with serious staying power. They've pushed forward through a number of lineup changes to create nine distinct studio records over their 30-year history; I've been listening through most of my life and I very much believe the Jayhawks are one of the Great American Rock Bands.
The Jayhawks were first known to me as a band that melded traditional country sounds with a modern rock approach. At some point people called that Americana, I guess. But they've done a lot of other things too, and they largely eschew the twang on Paging Mr. Proust. Instead, they pair a classic Brit-rock sound with a kind of playful experimentation. To me, this record is as strong as anything they've done, and that's saying a great deal.
In terms of personnel, this album is a return to the lineup that recorded the Sound of Lies (1997) and Smile (2000) albums, but the band feels like it's very much pushing onward while still acknowledging past glories. Louris told me that the band worked harder in pre-production than on any previous Jayhawks' record, and that most of the songs were demoed in his home studio before recording the album with co-producers Peter Buck and Tucker Martine in Portland, OR.
The album's title Paging Mr. Proust is a reference to Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time and the lyrics often show a longing for a less chaotic and distracted experience than today's 24/7 information age. Proust isn't the only literary figure that shows up, as Robert Frost, David Foster Wallace and John Keats also appear, each one seemingly suggesting that we slow down a bit. Even the cover photo, a shot of the TWA terminal at New York's Idlewild Airport (aka JFK) in the 1960s, suggests an exciting time that looked towards the future, but was still human. I think this mirror's the songs on the record, which are at once comforting and progressive. In today's age of miniscule attention spans, these songs seem to be about small moments, and Louris magnifies and explores these moments to find something compelling and enthralling within.
"Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces", is the first track on the record as well as its first single. It's upbeat and sunny with a soaring melody and a '60s feel. The chorus comes quickly, and rewards with classic Jayhawks harmonies. The quiet corners and empty spaces that Louris is looking for are escapes from a life where "we drown in ups and downs". The song, like the album, asks us to hit pause on our lives and notice the small wonders around us. To me, the way that Louris, drummer Tim O'Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg sing together is one such wonder. It's a fitting invitation into the record.