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Monday, Jan. 31, 2011

The Jayhawks

Hollywood Town Hall (Legacy American)

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The notion of Americana as a distinct musical genre was in its infancy when The Jayhawks emerged from the Twin Cities in the late ’80s, but their old-time, modern-world rock fits the form like a well-toned guy in a pair of faded jeans. Their 1992 major label debut has been reissued along with bonus tracks—and for once the bonuses are worth hearing. Hollywood Town Hall is one of the great albums of the ’90s, and the additional five songs, recorded around the time of the Town Hall sessions, weren’t mere alternative takes or toss-offs.

The album has a feel and a flow. Sounding as bleak as a long car trip through the upper Midwest in March, an aura of mystery clings to lyrics that suggest rather than tell their stories. Producer George Drakoulias and guest keyboardist Benmont Tench added sonic presence to the steel-guitar-drenched laments, hints of distortion, electric solos and country rock beats that moved the songs down Gram Parsons’ road at the pace of melancholy resignation.

Some of the bonus tracks would have worked on Hollywood Town Hall, while others flirted with different directions, including Bakersfield country and hand-clapping Southern gospel.