Americana music is undeniably popular, with recording artists such as The Avett Brothers, Wilco and Jason Isbell each headlining packed amphitheaters during the spring.
A generation ago, that wasn’t the case, but the seeds were planted by the Jayhawks, a band coming of sonic age then in vibrant Minneapolis.
At that time, such seminal Twin Cities bands as the Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du reigned in Minneapolis, one of the most exciting alt-rock music scenes in the country.
“There was nobody else like us at that time,” vocalist-guitarist Gary Louris says. “There were bands around the country like Jason and the Scorchers, who were playing this style of music, but there was nothing like this in Minneapolis. But the cool thing was that Minneapolis embraced all different kinds of music, and we did well locally. But the record labels didn’t know exactly what to do with us.”
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But the maverick American Records label, led by unconventional producer Rick Rubin, inked them to a deal, and fans across the nation figured out that the Jayhawks are special. In fact, the band was nearly infallible during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Louris and his former collaborator Mark Olson proved to be strong songwriters and more than capable players. Louris’ harmonies helped raise the band to another echelon. 1989’s “The Good Earth” is a solid album, and 1992’s “Hollywood Town Hall” is a classic that any new fan of Americana should check out.
“We were always a good band with good songs,” Louris said. “And we got a little lucky.”
Olson left in 1995, but returned in 2009 and helped craft 2011’s underheralded “Mockingbird Time.” Olson left the band again after the tour, but the Jayhawks, which also includes drummer Tim O’Reagan, bassist Marc Perlman, keyboardist Karen Grotberg and guitarist Jeff Lyster, are doing just fine.
“Paging Mr. Proust,” produced by Peter Buck, dropped in April. The Jayhawks’ ninth album is a gem, combining sweet harmonies with the edgier, heavier guitar work, which is jagged and adventurous.
“You don’t want to make the same album over and over again,” Louris says. “I think we’ve been pretty good at not repeating ourselves.”
Indeed, the group has moved forward with “Proust,” proving that as well as Louris worked with Olsen over the years, he can lead the Jayhawks just fine without his former co-conspirator. But he’s not alone, he reminds fans. Each bandmate makes key contributions. “It’s a team effort,” Louris says. “Everyone pitches in.”
When the Jayhawks take the stage Tuesday at the Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro, they’ll have quite a canon of songs to choose from. Putting together a set list can’t be easy.
“That’s a good problem to have,” Louris says. “I’m proud of most of the songs we’ve put out. It’s been a really good run – and it’s not over yet.”