The Jayhawks (photo courtesy of All Eyes Media, PR)
Paging Mr. Proust
Sham Records/Thirty Tigers
The Jayhawks are one of this country’s finest bands. The Minneapolis group's combination of guitar-driven rock, traditional-meets-contemporary country, and power pop—coupled with exceptional song craft and strong harmonies—has propelled the band to the forefront. Now, they add new music to that legacy with a ninth studio album, Paging Mr. Proust.
Since 1985, the Jayhawks have survived numerous changes in personnel and a four-year period of inactivity, from 2004-2008. The band's two constant members have always been lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter Gary Louris and bassist Marc Perlman. Paging Mr. Proust is the follow up to 2011’s Mockingbird Time, the Jayhawks’ reunion album and the one that marked the homecoming of original member, singer, and guitarist Mark Olson, who quickly departed again shortly after that album's release. But Mockingbird Time also featured the return of longtime keyboardist Karen Grotberg and she remains on board and her backing vocals are an integral part of the band’s sound.
On Paging Mr. Proust, Louris, Perlman and Grotberg are by joined veteran drummer Tim O’Reagan, who joined the Jayhawks in 1995, and guitarist Kraig Johnson, who is on his second tour of duty with the band after being with them initially from 1996 until 2001. This means that Paging Mr. Proust is from the same Jayhawks lineup that did 1997’s Sound Of Lies (minus violinist and cellist Jessy Greene) and 2000’s Smile.
Paging Mr. Proust finds the Jayhawks’ mining familiar ground, but it also discovers new areas for the band to expand its palette. Interestingly, much of the alternative country flourishes one has come to expect from the Jayhawks are absent on this new album. In its place are occasionally darker moods, fueled by grungy guitars and keyboards. As a result, the album doesn’t lock itself into a pop vein, but finds new territory for musical exploration.
This scope is stimulated by the album’s producers—former R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, Tucker Martine and Louris. It is most obvious in songs like “Ace,” which possesses characteristics of industrial and noise rock, and “Lost The Summer,” a song whose sonic heaviness is matched by its subject matter: domestic gun violence and serial killers.
Longtime fans will still find plenty of vintage Jayhawks moments on Paging Mr. Proust on songs like “The Devil Is In Her Eyes.” Sunshine-kissed, guitar-propelled power pop are on full display in “Lovers Of The Sun” and “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces." Both the light and the dark come together in “Pretty Roses In Your Hair.”
Throughout the album, Louris’s lead vocals display both dexterity and confidence, while Perlman’s melodic bass dances throughout, especially in “Lies In Black & White.” In addition to Buck, former R.E.M. bandmate Mike Mills also contributes to the album, as does longtime R.E.M. touring member, The Minus 5's Scott McCaughey.
The Jayhawks are an American musical institution and Paging Mr. Proust easily holds its own among the band’s best work, reinforcing the band's stellar reputation.