Many think that 1992's "Hollywood Town Hall" is actually the Jayhawks debut. It is actually preceded by their 1986 debut "The Jayhawks" (Aka the Bunkhouse sessions) and 1989s "Blue Earth". These are both good albums but are precursors to the massive step change that occurred on this record. This was their big label debut on Def American and one in which they drew class session support in the form of Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers and Nicky Hopkins from the Rolling Stones.
As a band from Minneapolis, they stood in sharp contrast to the other local bands of the time like Husker Du and the Replacements who ploughed a more pop rock orientated or hardcore furrow. The Jayhawks alternatively harked back to deeper Americana roots traditions and in the harmony drenched songs of Olsen and Loris had two of the finest songwriters to emerge in Americana music in the past 30 years. Indeed they are as important as Uncle Tupelo in terms of the being founders of the Alt Country movement in the early 1990s
This reviewer first purchased their brilliant fifth album "Sound of Lies", marked by the he departure of founder-guitarist-vocalist Mark Olson and saw Gary Louris take over the reins even though in some quarters he had been seen a the "junior" partner in the band. Coming at the Jayhawks "back to front" and retracing steps over their previous albums was therefore a huge pleasure not least devouring this third album by the band which is an alt country classic and one which draws on the legacy of great bands like Poco and the Flying Burrito Brothers, but also develops and deepens this further.
"Hollywood Town Hall" was recently remastered and also threw up six of its songs to the excellent Jayhawks retrospective "Music From The North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology". In candour all ten could have been included and your sympathies go to the albums compilers who must have gone through agonies in achieving the final track line up.. With all the songs present vying for "Best of" status the following are personal favourites. The first of these is the brilliant opener and single "Waiting for the Sun" with its echoes of Neil Young and fine guitar from Olsen. Second you should seek out "Settled down like rain" a lovely pop country ballad which deserves to be recognised as the one of the best songs that has emerged from the Americana genre. Next up is the hard rock of "Wichita" with blistering guitar solos churning out of Olsen. Finally "Two Angels" screams out for Gram Parsons to stir himself from the Joshua Tree and a make a comeback, although Louris vocal would be difficult to better. Others like "Take me with you (when you" are more cagey on revealing their charms but with a great dual vocal from Olsen and Louris it turns out to be one of the standouts on the album.
Overall "Hollywood Town Hall" is one of those albums that by the third or fourth listen burns itself into your consciousness after slowly revealing its melodic secrets. Also remember that from this you can graduate to the joys of "Tomorrow the green grass" and "The sound of lies". The rewards are great and for those curious for something different within a tightly defined genre this is a great starting point. Like Uncle Tupelo's "No Depression" this is a landmark album in the trajectory alternative country's birth. You don't own it? Then its time to get out the cheque book.
Review by Red on Black