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A combination of rough singing and sweet music gives this new collaboration between two original Jayhawks its charm.

Music Review: Mark Olson & Gary Louris – Ready for the Flood

Ready for the Flood is the first recorded collaboration between Mark Olson and Gary Louris since the former left the Jayhawks in 1995.

The quavery vocal harmonies take just a verse or so to get used to. Then you're drawn in by the purity of the songs themselves, especially the first two tracks, which are among the best. In fact it's the contrast between the rough singing and the sweetness of the music that gives the album its charm.

The choppy instrumentation, heavy on acoustic guitar, with patches of bluegrass and British-style folk, contributes to the sense of up-in-your-face realness. In this way the music harks back both to the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan. Perhaps this is partly owing to the influence of the producer, Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes, a band that, while much more electric, has always reveled in flirting with sonic chaos.

Without good songs these sonic qualities wouldn't mean much. Those first two tracks, “The Rose Society” and “Bicycle,” fit into a traditional Americana groove. "Turn Your Pretty Name Around" and "My Gospel Song for You" take the duo into gentler ballad territory: though slight, they gain gravity from the mournful tempos and keening vocals. "Saturday Morning on Sunday Street," "When the Wind Comes Up," and "Life's Warm Sheets" share a 1960s folk flavor, quirked by the occasional deceptively subtle chord change. There's a touch of Garcia-Hunter haziness too, in songs like "Kick the Wood" and "Black Eyes," where the writing gets a bit lazy, like the Grateful Dead in their lesser moments.

But it's a fine line between getting at the fundamentals and oversimplifying. Olson and Louris succeed more often than not in walking gently on the wild side of the line. In the end, the looseness of the sound mirrors a faint theme to these songs, with their evocation of love and floods: that we're not in control of the world, or even of our own lives, so the best we might do is sing a pretty song. As they conclude in the closing track, "The Trap's Been Set": "I never knew what hit me."

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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