B-Sides in the Bins #58 – Neal Casal Interview

Neal Casal is a musician who you discover when you start digging into his career, has a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon-esque connection to other musicians. The fact is that Casal’s personal mantra is to live a life of creativity, and he achieves this in spades through his own extensive solo career with 11 albums dating back to 1994, sideman work in countless recording sessions and stints in other bands including high-profile runs in Ryan Adams‘ Cardinals and currently Chris Robinson’s Brotherhood (which has an album coming out this year) as well as a blossoming photography career.  Casal’s latest solo record Sweeten the Distance will be released on Royal Potato Family on April 10th. Neal was a generous interviewee, and I came away from the conversation very inspired about my own music collecting, performing and photography.

When I called Neal, he was in busy painting a bedroom. He had to turn down the music he was playing to hear me. After introducing myself, I opened by asking him about his ties to the resurgence of the “Laurel Canyon” scene that started around some jam sessions at Jonathan Wilson‘s house.

Yeah, I have a few of those connections for sure… Wilson is a friend of mine, yeah, we’ve played music a bunch, been around his studio and seen a lot. We’re all part of the same music scene really.

I played on Mark Olson’s solo record Many Colored Kite, I was asked to play bass on the Gary Louris solo record Vagabonds by Chris Robinson who produced it, but I couldn’t because I was in the Cardinals at the time and we were getting ready to go on a long tour for Easy Tiger. But, I also play some bass on the new Jayhawks record.

A great record– I’m so happy they are back together.

Yeah, I was a long-time Jayhawks fan– back in the early-90’s I used to see them play all the time. I loved them, they were a big band for me. So, I was really lucky to get to know those guys and to play with them a bit.

Let’s talk a little bit about your record collection, I assume you’re into vinyl?

I’m definitely into vinyl. I have a whole living room full of vinyl and I buy stuff all the time. I played in L.A. last night, actually, and there is a great record shop called Origami Vinyl and I bought the Michael Chapman Rainmaker reissue, which was his first album for the Harvest label in ‘69– amazing sort of skewed English folk with some Rock elements in it.

I listen to vinyl all day long, I buy vinyl all the time– I don’t even know where it begins and ends, you know?

Was vinyl a resurgence for you, or were you into it all along?

I started collecting vinyl well over 20 years ago and it just never stopped– it never died for me. I never let go of my collection or anything like that. It’s cool that vinyl is at an all-time high with all of the reissues and attention to detail– it’s amazing. And, now that I’m in the Chris Robinson Brotherhood the vinyl obsession goes even further. Chris is an avid music listener and he and I get along so well musically and in every town we play– we are in the record shops. So, last year touring around the country we were spending our paychecks on stacks of vinyl. It was great!

Did you end up shipping the records back or did you bring them on the bus?

Oh, they were on the bus! There was no where to even sleep in my bunk! It was just so full of records.

So, yeah, I’m listening to records all the time– in fact, I was listening to Captain Beefheart on the turntable and painting a room as you called.

Which Captain Beefheart record was it?

I was listening to a record called The Spotlight Kid. It isn’t exactly my favorite, but that was what I was listening to just now.

In your collecting do you tend to focus on any particular genre, or are you a completist in anything?

I’m not really a completist, although at the moment I’m trying to find every single Robbie Basho record there is. Robbie Basho was an acoustic guitar player in the John Fahey tradition or style who made records in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I’m currently obsessed with him and would like to get all of his records, actually.

I’m only just recently getting into John Fahey. I feel like I’m kind of late to the party.

John Fahey was amazing– he had his own record label called Takoma Records and Robbie  Basho was on Takoma for a while. He wasn’t like Fahey, but he was kind of in that vein. Completing my Robbie Basho collection is hard, though because some of them are really rare– they’re quite expensive now.

Some of the Fahey records are getting reissued, so maybe some of Basho’s stuff might get reissued, too.

Yeah, exactly. For a while I wanted to complete my Incredible String Band collection, which I finally did, which is cool. But, it isn’t really about being a completist as it is about finding cool stuff and discovering what new music you can, you know?

When CD’s came out in the 80’s I jumped on that bandwagon– so most of my collection until the last decade or so was made up of that– I have thousands of CD’s…

Oh, we we’re all on that one, you know– me too, believe me. My CD collection is now– I got rid of almost all of the cases, and I just put them all in books. So I still have most of my CD collection and I have stacks of CD books as well, so…

Yeah, I’ve always had a turntable and my vinyl, but during the CD years I’d only pick up vinyl when there was something I wanted that was only available on vinyl– like maybe a remix or something and it has only been in the last decade or so that I started getting back into vinyl, and really in the last three years I’ve tripled my collection of vinyl. Thankfully, the majority of people still don’t seem to think that vinyl is a going concern, so you can still find good deals on some pieces. It seems like I’m spending a lot of time replacing albums from the 90’s that I originally bought on CD.

Yeah, CD’s as a format you can just see is just not very timeless, you know what I mean? CD’s are not wearing well as we move down the years. That’s a problem– the artwork doesn’t last, it looks like shit, they look horrible in your house– they don’t display well. They sound weird, too– they skip and they get all fucked up. They’re still around, of course, but they are just not a timeless medium. It’s amazing to see that with vinyl, they got it right the first time.

I completely agree with what Neil Young has been saying about CD’s for many years— that the sound isn’t what it should be. So, for your own albums, how are you doing it? Tape to LP? Digital and then mastering to LP?

I recorded my last two records digitally, and that’s fine. I think that recording digitally isn’t particularly a problem if you do it right. I work with really great people who know what they’re doing with all of that stuff. But, I still like to work on tape as well. Recording digitally is a fact of life that I totally accept, and digitally recorded records can be mastered to vinyl beautifully.

Sweeten the Distance will be on vinyl, and the last Hazy Malaze record Connections is available on vinyl, too, right?

Yeah, actually all three Hazy Malaze records are available on vinyl. The first Hazy Malaze record was recorded on tape and mastered to vinyl– so that is a record that is completely analog which was really cool.

Speaking of Hazy Malaze, the two other members Dan Fadel and Jeff Hill are the rhythm section of the new record. They have played on my last three solo records records in addition to the three Hazy Malaze records which we all co-write together. Those two guys are  are such a huge part of my musical life. they’re a team and we’ve done so much musical work together.

Also, two of my albums from the 90’s are coming out on vinyl as well.

The reissues that Fargo did?

Yeah, and they did a really great job with those. But, I’m most excited with Sweeten the Distance. Thom Monahan, the guy who produced it was a big key to the sound. He is such a great producer and he works with so many people: Vetiver, Fruit Bats, and he did the Chris Robinson Brotherhood record we just finished, and he also co-produced that Gary Louris record Vagabonds with Chris Robinson. And, Thom also worked with Jonathan Wilson on his album Gentle Spirit. So, you can see how all of these roads cross with this circle of friends we have going on here.

Yeah, I first heard about Jonathan Wilson about the time I started getting into Dawes and heard about the get togethers he was having at his place in Laurel Canyon.

Yeah that was fun. That is where I met Jonathan and those guys– a really good scene. Jonathan was also really good friends with Jonathan Rice who is in Jenny and Johnny— have you heard their record?

Actually, no. I’m more familiar with Rice’s solo stuff.

Jonathan Rice has done two solo records, but his girlfriend is Jenny Lewis who was in Rilo Kiley and they are in Jenny and Johnny together. I used to play with Jonathan Rice many years ago– so this scene just kind of came together from people who knew each other. And, there is another guy name Farmer Dave Scher who is in Beachwood Sparks.

And, you toured with Beachwood Sparks, right?

Yeah, and they just make a new record with Thom Monahan that I play on as well. Crossing streams, you know.

There must be something in the water up there– it’s almost a corollary to the 70’s Laurel Canyon scene– Jackson Browne working with the Eagles, the Eagles working with Linda Ronstadt, Linda Ronstadt working with Neil Young and James Taylor…

Yeah, it’s people around– all in the same place doing stuff– people with songs– and it’s a good idea to get together. I don’t think anyone really thought about it, but when you look back on it, you’re like, “wow, we really did a lot of stuff together.” No one set out saying, “we’re going to make a new Laurel Canyon scene.” That would have been incredibly pretentious. It just started to happen.

When you get ready to work on your solo stuff, do you find yourself maybe water-shedding with your records?

Well, actually, I try to get away from my records, actually. So that it’s not so much like I’m trying to cop another thing, you know? For me, the record collection is useful as a subliminal influence. In my off-time I’m listening to records constantly, and I’m just absorbing stuff. But, when it comes time to really write or really record– that’s when I put the records away. Try not to make any direct references. I used to do it when I was younger– bring a record to the studio when you’re making a record and you tell the producer, “I want the record to sound like this.” That’s just stupid, it never really works. To try to cop something directly is not a good idea– you just need to do your own thing– you have to look for your own voice. My 60’s and 70’s influences come across strongly in my music, I admit– but I don’t sit around with Thom Monahan playing Jackson Browne records trying to replicate them. The fabric of who I am as a musician comes from my record collection, but it is absorbed in a much different way– a much more subtle or internal way. That said, when I worked on the Chris Robinson Brotherhood album, we did have a turntable in the recording studio– in the live room– and everyone brought in records, but that was just so we could listen to records on break and have fun.

How long had you been working on the songs on Sweeten the Distance? I know that you had an album out in 2009…

I started working on songs right after Roots and Wings, which was my last album. Just over the last two or three years. I’m just always working on music.

Looking at your career, I’m impressed at how capably you jump between your own music and helping other people with theirs.

I love doing a bit of both– it keeps things fresh. I love working with other people and I bring a little that back to my own music. Sometimes working on my own stuff can get to be a little isolating, so I love to be a guitar player for other people or bring in some harmony vocals. I just want to be playing music all the time. I like it to be an open thing. It doesn’t have to be just my music– it can be someone else’s as long as it is really good! I have so many friends that it just makes sense to go play with them. There are no rules that I should just do my stuff– I just want to do– I just want to do stuff and I want to be involved.

You do seem pretty adaptable– when I compare the music of the Cardinals, for example, to your music I don’t think that they are necessarily very similar.

Well what the Cardinals did and what I do fall under the broad umbrella of American music. Playing with Ryan was an amazing experience. He is so unbelievably talented, and such an absolute great songwriter that I was influenced by him. Again, though, not so directly, but more like raising the bar in terms of quality of songwriting and song quality in general and the desire to be great. But, I didn’t come out of that experience sounding more like Ryan. Before I had joined him, I had already been making my own records and had my own style. Part of the reason he wanted me to join his band was because I had my own style.

I read a comment that you made about how your photographs are in essence the songs that you couldn’t or haven’t written yet. It’s an idea that really intrigues me as an amateur photographer and musician myself– the idea that two different art forms could be tied together.

It’s all part of one creative flow for me. Taking photographs is like what we talked about– it’s like playing with other people. Instead of just making my own songs, I play guitar with other people, and in addition to playing guitar with other people, I take photographs of those people. It’s the way to make life creative– a creative flow 24/7– all the time. You can’t play music constantly– so when I take a break from that, I pick up a camera. It’s interesting that my photographs end up looking like my music sounds. The same aesthetic that I have in one thing, I bring to another– and that’s very interesting to see. Like I might use space photographically the same way I do musically. You bring your personality into whatever you do, so things can kind of look and sound the same way. It’s not the medium– it’s YOU. In some of my music there is a kind of quiet aspect to things and I find myself doing that with a camera as well. I’m reaching for the same thing photographically as I am musically. I think that maybe my photographs are more diverse than my music, but there is a certain melancholy or introspection and that is a part of my personality that I’m working out and I do that with photographs as well. What is my psyche pushing me towards? That is one my my main revelations in my pursuit of photography.

My pursuit of photography started out as a way for me to document what I was doing– I  was on tour constantly and I was losing track of time– I was never ever home– nor did I want to be at home at that time. But, being on tour can be really tedious. Not boring– but you don’t have control over your day. So, I started taking photographs to pass the time, but also so I could remember where I’d been. When you are on tour that much, I noticed that it was difficult to keep everything straight. So, I started taking photographs to make being on the road more tolerable. Also, to bring more creativity to being on tour– otherwise you end up in hotel rooms and coffee shops all day, and I can’t handle that. Then, it became a passion when I realized that I had a knack for it. That is what photography has done for me– It has make my life so much bigger than just music. (chuckles) I’m just trying to have a rich experience here!

What is on your vinyl wish list?

Let me look at my phone… I always have a running list of stuff. There’s so much…

Steve Hillage – Fish Rising : Chris Robinson played me that record…
The Collins Sisters – Anthems in Eden
“The Wicker Man” Soundtrack
Dr. Strangely Strange Records
Any Roy Harper records I can find
Robert Nighthawk – Bricks in my Pillow
John Martyn – The Tumbler
Robin Williamson (from ISB) – Myrrh – Really rare, I don’t think I’ll ever see it.

 Neal, I really want to thank you for your time, this was a great conversation! I should let you get back to painting your room!

Actually, this is perfect timing– I was painting while we were talking and I’m now done!

Neal Casal’s new album Sweeten the Distance will be out on April 10th on compact disc, digital and glorious vinyl on Royal Potato Family Records. Click Here for the pre-order!

(Upcoming Show) Cory Chisel Duo at The Lift in Dubuque – 9/16

Cory Chisel at RIBCO

I had the opportunity to see Appleton, Wisconsin native Cory Chisel with his touring band the Wandering Sons back in February at RIBCO in Rock Island opening for Dawes along with Jason Boesel. I wasn’t familiar with Cory before I heard of that show, but quickly his track “Born Again” from his latest full length Death Won’t Send A Letter became a favorite with it’s urgent Animals-esque organ lead and his slightly hoarse delivery.

His performance at the show was fantastic– full of energy and passion and for me an unexpected match for Dawes equally powerful set! Certainly a band I’d recommend anyone go see if presented a chance.

Cory is taking a short break from touring with a full band and performing some  shows in the region as a duo including three shows in support of Mark Olson of the Jayhawks. This Thursday night Cory will be doing a headlining show at The Lift in Dubuque with Miles Nielsen in support. Show starts at 10PM.

Click Here for the Facebook Event Invite for Cory Chisel Duo at The Lift

Click Here to check out Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons Daytrotter Session.

Click Here to visit Cory Chisel’s Website.

Click Here to visit Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons MySpace Page

Click Here to visit Cory Chisel’s Facebook Fan Page

Click Here to listen to/download “Born Again” by Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons.

Click Here to visit Miles Nielsen’s Website

Click Here to visit Miles Nielsen’s MySpace Page

Click Here to visit Miles Nielsen’s Facebook Page

Click Here to listen to Miles Nielsen’s Daytrotter Session

Joe Henry’s Blood From Stars Due Out August 18th

Ever since I heard Joe Henry’s Short Man’s Room which was backed by the Jayhawks in 1993, I have been a constant fan of his very wry songwriting and organic approach to his music. His last two albums, 2003’s Tiny Voices and 2007’s Civilians really established a sound for Henry that he carried to his production work for artists like Bettye LaVette and Solomon Burke to great effect.

On August 18, Anti- Records will be releasing Henry’s 11th album titled Blood From Stars. Blood From Stars is a departure of that sound he established for his last two albums, and is, according to Henry, a more “emotionally available, certainly less mannered… much more electric, in the literal and also the emotional sense of the word. It is raw with many loose threads hanging.”

He said that the tone and sound of the album is a result of the collection of musicians he has assembled to record Blood From Stars, including legendary sideman Marc Ribot, saying “Partly, I just loved what happened when this particular group of musicians heard a song and had to respond to it in a very immediate way… if you limit them to your own imagination, then you’re just cutting yourself off from the richest resource you have.”

Track listing for Blood From Stars:

  • Prelude: Light No Lamp When The Sun Comes Down
  • The Man I Keep Hid
  • Channel
  • This Is My Favorite Cage
  • Death To The Storm
  • All Blues Hail Mary
  • Bellwether
  • Progress of Love (Dark Ground)
  • Over Her Shoulder
  • Suit On A Frame
  • Truce
  • Stars
  • Coda: Light No Lamp When The Sun Comes Down

Click Here to visit Joe Henry’s Website

Click Here to visit Joe’s page at Anti- Records.

New Jayhawks Legacy Releases Planned, Anthology on the Horizon

Some great news for Jayhawks fans– Sony Legacy/Columbia are working on preparing Legacy releases of the Jayhawks American/Sony catalog. This would be Hollywood Town Hall (1993) and  Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995) with Mark Olson in the band; and the post-Olson-departure releases Sound of Lies (1997),  Smile (2000),  and Rainy Day Music (2002). According to information shared on the jayhawksfanpage board (THE source for all things Jayhawks-related) as well as some interviews recently Gary and Mark (mostly Gary) have been combing through their personal archives to come up with the bonus material to be included in these releases.

Additionally, there will be an anthology to be titled Music From the North Country – The Jayhawks Anthology, which will be a two-disc set with one disc of tracks from their albums including their bigger hits, and the second disc will be full of demos, compilation-only tracks, soundtrack-only tracks and b-sides. This will be released on July 7th– just in time for their reunion gig at the Basilica Block Party in Minneapolis on July 10th.

Tracklisting for Music from the North Country – The Jayhawks Anthology:

DISC ONE: Two Angels / Ain’t No End / Waiting for the Sun / Martin’s Song / Clouds / Settled Down Like Rain / Blue / I’d Run Away / Over My Shoulder / Miss Williams’ Guitar / Trouble / Big Star / The Man Who Loved Life / Smile / I’m Gonna Make You Love Me / What Led Me To This Town / Tailspin / All the Right Reasons / Save It For a Rainy Day / Angelyne

DISC TWO: Falling Star (from Bunkhouse Album, 1986) / Old Woman From the Red Clay (alt version) / That’s the Bag I’m In (KFAI recording) / Won’t Be Coming Home (early demo) / Stone Cold Mess (HTH outtake) / Mission on 2nd (demo) / Lights (from Sweet Relief album, a classic!) / Darling Today (Blown Away soundtrack) / Break My Mind / Get the Load Out (both “Bad Time” B-sides) / Poor Little Fish (alt version) / Someone Will (Live from Woman’s Club) / Cure for This (this and all the rest are from the band’s rehearsal studio, 1999-2001)/ I Can Make It on My Own / Rotterdam / Follow Me / In the Canyon / Tailspin (alt version) / I Think I’ve Had Enough (Louris home tape) / Help Me Forget

As far as the Legacy releases of the albums are concerned, according to this thead on the fanboard in a reply by “Sacred Roots” who was involved in the archive research for the releases, including the Anthology release, the plans have been to add around six songs to each of the releases, except for Tomorrow the Green Grass which should get a second disc that includes 18 tracks from “The Mystery Demos.” Here is a great post on the blog Sixty-to-Zero about the Mystery Demos resulting from what must have been be the work done for these releases.

In this time of record labels trying to figure out how to stay viable it is clear that they at least feel that the future sustainability lies in re-releasing and re-packaging product. In the case of Sony/Columbia we see in the Legacy releases the interest in providing fans with new material that hasn’t seen the light of day before commercially. As a collector, I’m overjoyed that they can do this, but as a past consumer, I can’t help but feel like I’m being taken advantage of. I know, “gift horse” and all that, but I only have so much money to invest in material I already have.

Aside from that, I’m hoping that the relationship momentum that Gary Louris and Mark Olson have established resulting in the fantastic Ready For The Flood and the renewed interest in their back catalog may precipitate a future Jayhawks release of new material.

Upcoming Show: Reunited Jayhawks to Play Minneapolis Basilica Block Party 7/10/09

It seems that the reunion of Gary Louris and Mark Olson which produced the fantastic Chris Robinson-produced Ready For The Flood, has grown enough for them to consider some Jayhawks reunion shows.

“Since Mark and I are buddies again,” Gary said in a quote from Billboard.com, “and the fact that Karen [Grotberg] is now willing to do some shows because now her daughter is old enough for her to leave for periods of time, it’s just become for viable.”

Right now, the only confirmed U.S. date is the massive Minneapolis Basilica Block Party on Friday, July 10th which has them sharing the bill with The Black Crowes and Mat Kearney. Continuing the Crows-theme, The Counting Crows play on Saturday along with Twin Cities ex-pats The Hold Steady and Matt Nathanson. Tickets go on sale 4/24, and you can pick individual day passes or a pass for both days. No ticket prices are announced, yet.

As, for future Jayhawks shows or the possibility of touring, Louris says, “Our approach is to look forward. I think the plan is that we’re going to play festivals, next year we’re hoping to play Bonnaroo and things like that. We’ll see if it grows from there… But if we continue and we’re loving it, then of course you need new songs.”

Mark Olson & Gary Louris Live @ CSPS in Cedar Rapids 2-19-09 (review)

Gary & Mark
Like a lot of people I became a fan of the Jayhawks around the time of the airplay of what was arguably their biggest hit “Waiting for the Sun” off of Hollywood Town Hall in 1992. That album plus the album Short Man’s Room by Joe Henry recorded with the Jayhawks in tow really propelled the obscure Twin Cities band to the fore of my daily soundtrack.

Fast-forward to 1995 and I’m living in Minneapolis– home of Prince, Bob Mould, Soul Asylum, and the Jayhawks. 1995 brought a new album from the Jayhawks– Tomorrow the Green Grass— and what would be the last album to feature the songwriting partnership of Olson and Louris the principle songwriters and shared frontmen for the group. Although the album failed to meet the expectations of success set by Hollywood Town HallTomorrow the Green Grass was the craftwork of extensive touring and the years of Olson and Louris working together. In Minneapolis the album was local-boys-done-good– played on Cities 97 and Rev105 (R.I.P.) all the time and it was as much a soundtrack to my Minneapolis years as Hollywood Town Hall was to my post-college years.

It was the love note of “Miss Williams’ Guitar” on Green Grass that foretold the future departure of Olson from the Jayhawks leaving Louris carrying the mantle of the band through three more albums. By the time the following 1997 album The Sound of Lies came out, I was back in Iowa with my future wife and daughter and concerning myself less with the rootsy sound of Americana bands like the Jayhawks, Wilco,  and Son Volt and more with electronica, triphop and the post rock sounds coming out of Chicago.

Mark Olson

It wasn’t until 2007 when Mark Olson released his first solo album The Salvation Blues and I had a chance to interview him that I started digging back through the Jayhawks catalog. Mark’s show in February 2008 at CSPS was enlightening and the sound of a man turning a page in his life as a musician. By the time I saw him last year, the plans were already underway for Flood— both men having put whatever differences they may have had in the spirit of working together again.

The sessions for Ready for the Flood were produced by Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson which were really a culmination of two “reunion” tours and a desire to work on new material. Robinson provided a very subtle organic sound to the recording leaving most of the sonic shape of the album to be made by the vocals and acoustic guitars. The album was shelved in favor of letting Mark tour in support of his new album, which also provided Gary the opportunity to continue working with Robinson on his first solo album Vagabonds. Vagabonds was one of my favorite albums from 2008 and was released in a wonderful 180g vinyl pressing with gatefold cover. Gary was also generous with bonus material providing an interesting guitar-and-vocals version of a handful of songs in the form of the Acoustic Vagabonds EP, as well as iTunes and Amazon exclusive B-Sides.

Gary Louris

A label switch in the fall of last year from Mark’s label Hacktone over to New West delayed the record release to late January but gained it a couple of bonus tracks.

When the CSPS show was announced as part of a February mini-run for the East and Midwest, I felt we were pretty lucky to have this stop considering the size of the other cities on the tour– in fact Cedar Rapids sticks out as an irregularity in a tour that includes stops in New York City, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago and Minneapolis! But, part of the appeal of Cedar Rapids is its close proximity to I-35 and I-80 making it sort of a tour nexus. I waited until almost the last possible minute to work out my tickets– the show sold out soon after I got my ticket! I know on occasion that CSPS has sold out a show, but I’ve never been to one, and John Herbert made a comment about this in his introduction of the band saying that typical attendence for shows like Tuvan throat singers are around 40! The pre-sale of 175 was sold out and there was a waiting list of another 20-25 who showed up at the show that night hoping to get in.

I was a bit shocked when I got to the venue– at 7:15 most of the prime parking spots on 3rd Avenue were already taken and people were already in seats by that time. Gary and Mark were put up on the big stage as opposed to the typical risers on the floor and the candlelit tables on the floor were replaced with rows of folding chairs. John Herbert was carrying out extra folding chairs to provide an ad-hoc front row for the last-minute hopefuls. I’m pretty sure they got them all in, which was cool. The crowd was a mix of ages, which Mark commented on during the show. Quite a bit of the crowd were 40-somethings like myself, but there were quite a few kids and a noticeable number of seniors which, I guess is a testament to the wide appeal of well-crafted songs.

Gary & Mark

The show started roughly around 8:15 after a nice introduction from John Herbert where he told the crowd that while normally there would be a set break, there wouldn’t be one for this and suggested that if people needed to get up for a break they should, but hurry back to their seat.  Mark and Gary ran quickly through the first three songs from Flood. They appeared to be very comfortable with the material and it looked to me like they had assumed familiar roles with each other. I hadn’t had the opportunity to see the Jayhawks in their heyday so I can only assume it seemed like this show. The two were joking around with each other dishing out good natured jibes. Olson seemed to ham it up a bit on stage while Louris played a bit of a straightman. Mark seemed to have developed thin blood since moving to Joshua Tree and was sporting not one, but two vests to combat the cold Iowa night and Gary commented that it was all about oneupmanship and he was planning to wear three vests the next night!

The show was recorded by Tim “Cyfan” who recorded Mark’s show last year as well as some other notable shows I’ve been to in the last five or so years (Cracker Acoustic Duo at the Mill, Richard Buckner at the Picador) and he does a top-notch job. It will be interesting to hear how this translates to audio.

Gary Louris

Mark Olson

Frankly, the acoustic setting of this show really presented an accurate picture of the Flood album, in my opinion, and even the most uptempo track on the album “Chamerlain, SD” with its “Kansas City” rhythm translated well to this twin acoustic attack.  A few of the songs enjoyed an extended workout. A notable one was the ominous “When the Wind Comes Up” which got a really nice guitar solo in the middle. That’s a song on the album I wish had been longer, so it was great to hear what they can do with the song in a live setting.

Of course the crowd really responded to the familiar Jayhawks catalog and certainly songs like “Waiting for the Sun,” “Two Angels,” and “Blue” paid appropriate tribute to their shared past.

In a surprising and generous gesture Mark announced that they would be donating the proceeds from their CD’s that night to help CSPS in its recovery from last year’s flood damage. Additionally, they would hang around afterwords and sign every copy! These sales donated $750 to the Iowa Artist Relief Fund. A very touching gesture, indeed!

It is notable how the new Flood songs fit so well with the established Jayhawks catalog and even after having the new album on my iPhone for a while quite a few of the songs were instantly familiar to me thanks to the well-crafted hooks they use. Songs like “Bicycle” with it’s repeated “hallelujah” followed by dirty guitar run and slide guitar and “Saturday Morning on Sunday Street” that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Simon and Garfunkel album are just as strong as “Blue” and “Two Angels” in my opinion. We are lucky to have these guys back together again.

After the show was over, a line quickly grew at the merch table as people queued up to have their CD’s signed. A congregation formed in the lobby area participating in the bubbly afterglow of a genuinely great show. I hesitated leaving for a minute fearing the Iowa winter would dash it away.

Click Here for the flickr photoset of the pictures I took at the show.

Upcoming Show: Mark Olson & Gary Louris at CSPS in Cedar Rapids 2/19/09

Mark Olson & Gary Louris by Steven Cohen Photography

Mark Olson & Gary Louris by Steven Cohen Photography

Ready for the Flood, the new album from former Jayhawks members Mark Olson and Gary Louris is due for release on January 27th according to Amazon.com and other sources. Ready for the Flood was originally supposed to be released on September 15th on Olson’s home label Hacktone but was moved to New West Records, current home of John Hiatt, The Old 97’s and The Drive By Truckers and other artists who compliment Olson and Louris’s country-influenced sound.

Ready for the Flood was recorded in January with production help from Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, who also worked on Louris’s brilliant solo album Vagabonds. Since both Louris and Olson had solo records released last year that still needed to be promoted and toured, they decided to delay the release until late this year, and now the release is moved to January with the label switch.

Shortly on the heels of Flood’s release Olson and Louris will kick off a tour during February in support of the album hitting small venues across the nation, wrapping up at a hometown show in Minneapolis at the Varsity Theatre. If any of the torrents of the live shows in Europe are any indication, these shows will be a Jayhawks fan’s dream pulling songs from the new album and songs from the Jayhawks catalog in an intimate stripped-down acoustic set.

Olson and Louris will be playing the (sadly) best-kept secret venue of Cedar Rapids, CSPS on February 19th. Mark Olson played a well-received show there in February this year– in fact it will be almost a year to the date! Tickets are $17 in advance and $20 the day of the show.

Feb 3 2009 7:00P
The Ark Ann Arbor, Michigan
Feb 4 2009 7:00P
The Mod Club Toronto, Ontario
Feb 6 2009 7:00P
Somerville Theater Somerville, Massachusetts
Feb 7 2009 7:00P
Zankel Hall @ Carnegie Hall New York, New York
Feb 9 2009 7:00P
Sellersville Theater Sellersville, Pennsylvania
Feb 10 2009 7:00P
Birchmere Alexandria, Virginia
Feb 11 2009 7:00P
The Arts Center Carrboro, North Carolina
Feb 13 2009 7:00P
Eddie’s Attic Atlanta, Georgia
Feb 14 2009 7:00P
Exit/In Nashville, Tennessee
Feb 15 2009 7:00P
Phoenix Hill Tavern Louisville, Kentucky
Feb 17 2009 7:00P
Blueberry Hill St. Louis, Missouri
Feb 18 2009 7:00P
Mojo’s Columbia, Missouri
Feb 19 2009 7:00P
CSPS Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Feb 20 2009 7:00P
Park West Chicago, Illinois
Feb 21 2009 7:00P
Varsity Theater Minneapolis, Minnesot

Click Here to visit the MySpace page for Ready for the Flood with song samples

Click Here to visit the Facebook Event I created.