A rarity for rock bands that lose one of their principal singer/songwriters, the remade lineup of the Jayhawks now on tour happens to be the preferred version for some of the group’s most die-hard fans.
After the band’s founder, Mark Olson, quit in 1995, guitarist and co-vocalist Gary Louris took the band in a rockier, more electrified and sometimes poppier direction. He also turned more personal in his songwriting, especially with 1997’s dramatic game-changing album “Sound of Lies,” considered an unsung masterpiece by many Jayhawks devotees.
“The whole record sounds effortless and elegant,” said 89.3 the Current jockey Mary Lucia, a longtime champion of “Sound of Lies” and, in particular, the dark opening track “The Man Who Loved Life.”
“[It proved] Gary Louris can write some of the best bridges in music, which from what I’ve heard from interviewing squillions of musicians over the years is the hardest thing in the world to do. Dude sounds like he can do it in his sleep.”
“Sound of Lies” is one of three Louris-led Jayhawks records that have been newly reissued with remastered sound and bonus tracks, the impetus for the current tour. The other two are 2000’s “Smile,” a more psychedelic and polished sonic opus made with “The Wall” producer Bob Ezrin, and the more stripped-down and folky flavored 2003 finale “Rainy Day Music.”
A critic and longtime fan who became the band’s resident archivist and coproduced the new reissues, PD Larson also cites the first of the batch as his favorite.
“There are moments of brilliance on every Jayhawks album, but it all really came together for me on ‘Sound of Lies,’ ” Larson said, calling it “a perfect storm of songwriting, performance, production and mixing that resulted in a timeless album of great emotional depth.
“The fact that there was so much behind-the-scenes turmoil at the time makes it all even more amazing,” Larson added.
Louris was in the midst of a divorce during the writing of the album, on top of the musical split with Olson. The band was also embroiled in corporate record-label politics that — to paraphrase a lyric in one of its most emotional tracks, “Trouble” — left them stranded on a vine.
Bassist Marc Perlman stepped up to write “Trouble,” and a new band member, Run Westy Run’s Kraig Johnson, stepped in on guitar after touring with Louris in the side project Golden Smog. Johnson is back with the band this summer, as are keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan, both of whom provided essential backup vocals on “SoL.” O’Reagan also wrote and sang his first of several well-received Jayhawks tunes for the record, “Bottomless Cup.”
“I got teary-eyed the first time I heard the album, it’s that beautiful,” said Jennifer Markey, a twangy Minneapolis singer/songwriter influenced by the band. “Everybody loves the records with [Olson] but ‘Sound of Lies’ changed everything for me.”