Music News & Reviews

The Jayhawks ‘Americana’-ize a British rock icon and travel new ‘Roads’

The Jayhawks back up British rock icon Ray Davies on his new album and drop a record of their own.
The Jayhawks back up British rock icon Ray Davies on his new album and drop a record of their own. The Jayhawks

The teaming of Ray Davies and The Jayhawks seems like an unlikely alliance on paper.

Davies, founder of The Kinks, is possibly the most quintessentially British pop star ofany generation while the Minneapolis mainstays of The Jayhawks have been viewed asmotivating spirits behind what is now a sprawling Americana movement.

Davies’ most frequent infatuations with this country coincided with a 2013autobiography, a critically lauded 2017 comeback album and a newly released follow-up,all with the blanket title of “Americana” (technically, the current “Act II” record is called“Our Country”). That led him to recruiting The Jayhawks as his primary back-up unit forboth albums and using the autobiography as source material.

Ray Davies - Our Country cover.jpg

What results on “My Country” is a curious journey. The travels are largely relaxed withtwo generations of pop sensibilities settling into the easygoing stride of the doo-wop-ish“Back in the Day,” the more plaintive “We Will Get There” and a quietly anthemicupdate of the 1971 Kinks gem “Oklahoma USA.”Just when you think things get a little too comfy, though, we get tossed “The Take,” ajolting groupie encounter pulled from the younger days of The Kinks. Then, as thejourney heads South to New Orleans, the music broadens beyond The Jayhawks for twobluesy, brassy Crescent City snapshots (“March of the Zombies” and “The Big Weird”)that take the subtle joyride that is “Our Country” down a few dark alleys.

Davies’ new album, perhaps coincidentally, comes to us on the heels of a new Jayhawksrecord.

Jayhawks - Backroads cover.jpg

In terms of construction, “Back Roads and Abandoned Motels” is something of adeparture. Much of its material consists of songs leader and co-founder Gary Lourispenned through the years with other artists, although all of these recordings are new.In revisiting them, Louris takes a modest step out of the spotlight. In fact, the albumopens not with Louris’ expressive high tenor, but with the looser, huskier voice ofkeyboardist Karen Grotberg. Penned originally for “Mother,” a 2013 solo album by DixieChick Natalie Maines, the intro tune “Come Cryin’ to Me” possesses a pop-soul castcomplete with horns. Similarly, drummer Tim O’Reagan takes over vocal chores on“Gonna Be a Darkness,” originally written by Louris and Jakob Dylan for HBO’s “TrueCrime” series. This version comes surrounded by delicate acoustics with a touch ofchurchy twang.

Anyone thinking Louris is bowing out can rest assured. He still sings lead on seven of thealbum’s 11 tracks, including “Carry You to Safety,” one of the two new songs thatconcludes “Back Roads.” It’s a gentle but majestic sweep of folk-pop assuredness, areminder of the breezy, understated beauty that continues to make The Jayhawks’ musicso immensely graceful and inviting.