Mockingbird Time (Rounder)
It’s hard to know how to count this reunion effort from the veteran country-rock band. It’s the eighth studio album since 1986 under the Jayhawks’ name, but only the fifth (and the first in 16 years) to include co-founders Mark Olson and Gary Louris in the lineup. Olson split after 1995’s critically successful Tomorrow the Green Grass, and Louris carried on with an evolving roster, releasing three more albums before dissolving the band in 2005. Olson and Louris then patched up their differences and began touring and, eventually, recording together. They put out an acoustic album in 2009 as just Olson and Louris, before deciding to resurrect the Jayhawks.
Given that complicated set-up, it’s surprising how effortless Mockingbird Time feels. The key to the continuity is in the warm, ragged harmonies of Olson and Louris, who at this point could hold their own with obvious influences like Buffalo Springfield and the Flying Burrito Brothers. There are a lot of nice tunes here, and a lot of lyrics that bear the imprint of mid-life reckoning with love, death, failure, and the small joys of life. “Wander through the desert, lookin’ for my way,” Olson and Louris sing on “Tiny Arrows,” before deciding it’s enough to “sit and watch the river flow.” A few tracks, like the gorgeous “She Walks in So Many Ways” and the album-closing “Hey Mr. Man” nod toward power pop, and they can rock out when they want to (“High Water Blues,” the Neil Young-ian guitar squall that interrupts “Guilder Annie”). But on the whole, it’s a lush and languorous album that feels like the best kind of reunion: one that builds something new and worthwhile on a foundation laid years ago.