Showing good timing for once in their 35-year career, the Jayhawks finished off their latest album shortly before the coronavirus quarantine hit. Then they announced details of its release Tuesday by issuing a new song that coincidentally sounds tailor-made for these times.
“Living in a bubble / in and out of time / I stick my head out every once in a while,” singer/guitarist Gary Louris sings in the first track, “Living in a Bubble,” which he performed solo from home in a video posted to alongside the album news (see below).
Obviously written before the quarantine — it’s about the “bubble” of the modern 24-7 news cycle — the studio version of the song will appear on “XOXO,” the pioneering Twin Cities Americana band’s 11th album overall. It’s due out July 10 via a record-label co-venture with Nashville-based indie distributor Thirty Tigers.
The press release for “XOXO” bills it as “their most diverse and wide-ranging group of songs to date,” and it confirms what the band members told their hometown newspaper after the release of their last album, “Back Roads and Abandoned Motels,” for Sony Legacy in 2018. Where that one featured drummer Tim O’Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg on lead vocals more than on prior records, this one will also feature more songwriting input by all the band members, including co-founding bassist Marc Perlman.
Some of the other tracks — several of which the band premiered live at the Palace Theatre in December — include Grotberg’s “Ruby,” the Perlman-penned “Down on the Farm” and an O’Reagan/Perlman collaboration titled “Illuminate.” The songs were all recorded in Minnesota, at both Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls and their late producer pal Ed Ackerson’s studio, Flowers, in Minneapolis.
“It was time to open things up,” Louris said in the press release about songwriting. “The Jayhawks are a true band, one where every-one’s an equal, and we wanted to make a record that really reflected that.”
Perlman added, “We didn’t worry too much about who penned what, because after all these years of playing together, everything we do just naturally comes out sounding like a Jayhawks song.”
This first track is all Louris, though. In the performance video posted Tuesday, the singer/guitarist applied the song’s message to the ongoing dilemma of living in a quarantine: “I would caution everyone to please stay informed, but be careful of being caught up in the 24-7 news cycle,” he said.
Of course, the Jayhawks as a band will remain stuck in quarantined for the time being. They already put off many May shows and a summer trek to Europe to promote the record, and right now the bulk of their touring was pushed to November and December.
Pre-orders of the album are now available. The CD version of “XOXO” will feature three extra tracks than the dozen in the vinyl edition, but all vinyl copies sold will also include the CD.