For his first solo album since 2007′s The Salvation Blues — as well as his first since reuniting with ex-Jayhawks partner Gary Louris for 2009′s Ready For The Flood — Mark Olson seems to have rediscovered his inner romantic.
Many of the songs on Many Colored Kite share the same themes of heartbreak and regret that dominated The Salvation Blues, an album at least partially inspired by his divorce from ex-wife and Creekdippers bandmate Victoria Williams. But even on these, Olson colors this regret with a new-found, almost glowy sort of optimism. His voice also sounds better than ever.
Part of this could be due to the fact that on many of these great new songs, the sweet-sounding, Burritos-era Gram Parsons inspired folk-pop harmonies are shared with his girlfriend, multi-instrumentalist Ingunn Ringwold.
On songs like the title track and “Bluebell Song,” these same harmonies also recall those between Olson and Louris on such Jayhawks albums as Hollywood Town Hall and the best songs from them like “Take Me With You (When You Go).” The arrangements may be a bit smaller here, but there’s no mistaking the same lush romanticism found on those great records.
On “Wind And Rain” Olson splices lines like, “I won’t ever deceive you babe,” with spoken-word memories of a drive through rural Nebraska, conjuring the sort of pastel images of a distant, but simpler time found in the paintings of Norman Rockwell’s America.
Mostly, though, the songs found on Many Colored Kite find Mark Olson walking a fine line between wistful yearning and guarded optimism. On the opening “Little Bird Of Freedom,” for example, he views his life through a rear-view window in lyrics like, “These are the days we remember,” even as he eyes the open road ahead when he sings, “Our life is a river.” He takes this sentiment deeper still on “Morning Dove,” a beautiful solo acoustic performance, with the simple lyric, “Be still, we can know our lives are true.”
Mark Olson’s Many Colored Kite is beautiful, quietly elegant folk-pop at its finest, painted with all the strokes of a true Americana master. Maybe we should just make this guy an ambassador or something.