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Music Review: The Jayhawks – Hollywood Town Hall (Remastered And Expanded Edition)

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Back when it was originally released in 1992, the Jayhawks’ Hollywood Town Hall was just about as unlikely a candidate to become the sort of classic whose lasting influence continues to this day as you could possibly imagine.

At the time, rock music was still dominated by the post-punk sounds of Seattle grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and the adult-alternative radio format which would later embrace them was still very much in its infancy.

Yet, if you were to pinpoint a defining moment in time where the term “alt-country” was pretty much invented in the modern sense, the Jayhawks Hollywood Town Hall is probably it. The album is today regarded (at least by those in the know) as an alt-country classic.

A beautiful record both then and now, the Jayhawks’ debut album for the big leagues with Rick Rubin’s Def American Recordings (the Minneapolis based band had previously recorded albums for indie labels like Twin Tone), is as perfect a marriage between the country twang of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers and the elegant grandeur of Robbie Robertson and the Band as it gets.

It also serves as a crucial flashpoint for just where the so-called “alt-country” genre would eventually go with bands like Wilco and with such albums as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Although it could be convincingly argued that Jeff Tweedy and company eventually took it much further, it was in fact the Jayhawks who paved the way.

Capitalizing on the recent revival of interest in this groundbreaking band that began with 2009’s Music From The North Country anthology, and continued with last years reunion between principal songwriters Gary Louris and Mark Olson on the Ready For The Flood album and tour, Sony Legacy has this week issued remastered, expanded editions of both Hollywood Town Hall and its equally brilliant (if initially slept upon) 1995 followup album Tomorrow The Green Grass.

Now, as then, songs like “Waiting For The Sun” and “Take Me With You (When You Go)” represent some of the most brilliantly constructed little slices of alt-country Americana you are ever likely to hear. From the sweet sounding, perfectly in-tune harmonies of Louris and Olson, to the occasional bursts of fuzzed-out Neil Young histrionics from Louris on guitar, this stuff is, honestly, just about as good as it gets.

The bonuses on the expanded edition are modest, but do include a trio of songs previously released only on the now rare Def American promo E.P. Scrapple, including the songs “Keith And Quentin” and “Up Above My Head.” There are also extended liner notes from original album producer George Drakoulias.

If you are only just now discovering the band that pretty much wrote the book on modern day alt-country, get ready for a rare treat.

Because this stuff is as good now as it was then.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.