When I finally looked into this band, though, it was because of an offhand reference to the song "Six Pack" by Black Flag, which was met with a reference to "6 Pack on the Dashboard" from The Bunkhouse Tapes, the semi-official title (a la The White Album/The Beatles) for the Jayhawks eponymous debut on Bunkhouse Records. I didn't know that, and simply used Google to find out where this reference came from.I found it was the Jayhawks and looked for an example of their music, as this was made by Gerald, who I've mentioned on many other occasions. I stumbled into a video of "Save It for a Rainy Day":
I ran into a copy of their post-reformation latest album, Mockingbird Time, and was pretty well taken. I referenced the album in one of my endless lyrical entry titles not too long ago, but also picked up the recent deluxe edition of Tomorrow the Green Grass. I saw this anthology, Music from the North Country, a few times before I picked it up. My disineterest in best-of collections, however, collided with my love of music videos--as well as the fact that, in this 3-disc deluxe edition, there was also a disc of bonus material, as well as the only location for their relatively small videography. I was finally pushed over the edge by the presence of "Save It for a Rainy Day," being my immediate introduction to the band and coming from an album old enough that it wasn't going to show anywhere new, but unpopular enough--and released recently enough--that it was not going to appear used very often.
The videos coupled with their approach to music were a wash of 1990's nostalgia of a kind, even as their music is more reminiscent of prior decades--perhaps the 1960's, to be specific. The band themselves described their sound in an "Electronic Press Kit" (EPK) that appeared on this very set. Mark Olson mentions that bassist Marc Perlman and then-drummer Ken Callahan have a rock-oriented approach to backbeat under Gary Louris' lap-steel guitar influenced electric leads with an overlay of folk-inflected lyrics. Indeed, in those days, Louris played lead on electric and Mark played an acoustic rhythm guitar beside him as they harmonized vocals by singing many lines together.
I had learned somewhere along the way that Louris and Olson were considered the foundation or center of the band as the vocalists (the sort of approach we, in the western popular music world, at least, are prone to) and that Mockingbird Time, released in 2011, was most famous as the reunion of Olson and Louris, as Olson had left the band in the mid 1990s. It turned out, then, that the first song I recognized as one I liked was from the period of time that would be relegated to bargain bins more often. I've never been any good at recognizing this sort of differentiation or choosing the "right" path in it anyway, though.
Still, as I watched the videos present in this set, "Blue" and "Waiting for the Sun" suddenly struck chords of familiarity somewhere in the dim recesses of my memory. "Waiting for the Sun" begins a with a chunky, muted guitar riff that is reminiscent of Mike Campbell's in Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Mary Jane's Last Dance," while Louris' verse vocals carry the unsteady nasal tenor of Neil Young's more acoustic work. This isn't to say that it sounds like a marriage of the two, as the extremely pleasant chorus when Olson's voice comes in and the music takes a slightly different tenor--and then eventually breaks into Louris' fuzzy guitar solo. By the time I'd seen videos for both of those hits, I doubted I'd ever be sure if I'd heard the songs before, because they were rooted now for certain and with absolute clarity.
In the end, the set is a nice representation and starting point, as it does cover the full range of their time together, as well as including bonus material and interesting interviews via the two EPKs (the other is for the album Sound of Lies, immediately post-Olson-exit) and the videos for songs from Hollywood Town Hall on to Rainy Day Music--thus ending with the video for the very song that (possibly) introduced me to them.