The Jayhawks emerged from the flourishing Twin Cities music scene of the '80s with a sound and feel deeply rooted in the soil of American music. Their 1989 album on Twin/Tone Records, Blue Earth, gained them a nationwide college-radio cult following on the strength of the superb, often bittersweet songs of Mark Olson and Gary Louris. Signed afterward to the coolest label in '90s alt-rock, Def American, The Jayhawks released one of that decade's greatest albums, Hollywood Town Hall (1992), and an excellent follow-up, Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995). As beautiful and bleak as a long car trip through the upper Midwest in late winter, an aura of mystery clung to songs that suggested stories rather than telling them. The steel-guitar-drenched laments rode on a solid country-rock rhythm, moving the music down Gram Parsons' road of melancholy resignation.
After Olson left at the end of 1995, Louris took charge and led the band in other directions. Many longtime fans begrudged the changes. The band was dormant for much of the last decade but Olson and Louris reunited for occasional shows beginning in 2009. Earlier this year, after Legacy issued expanded editions of the Def American releases, the Jayhawks went on tour. A new studio album is expected. (David Luhrssen)