With the Jayhawks reportedly set to embark later this year on their first extensive tour with the original lineup led by principal songwriters Gary Louris and Mark Olson since 1995 (and a new album reportedly set to follow), a fresh new dust-off of Olson’s last album with the band couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
This deluxe remastered edition of 1995’s classic Tomorrow The Green Grass from Sony/Legacy was released last month, along with its 1992 predecessor Hollywood Town Hall. Of the two repackaged albums, Tomorrow The Green Grass gets the more ambitious treatment by far.
In addition to a beautifully done remastering job on the original album (overseen by Olson and Louris, along with original producer George Drakoulias), the deluxe expanded double-disc edition also includes the first appearance on an officially sanctioned release of the “Mystery Demos.”
Recorded in 1992 during two separate sessions in Los Angeles and their native Minneapolis, these early, acoustic versions of songs that eventually wound up making the final cut for Tomorrow The Green Grass — as well as subsequent solo albums by Olson and Louris and Jayhawks offshoot Golden Smog — have long since attained mythical status among hardcore fans. These recordings offer a rare glimpse into the songwriting process behind some of Olson and Louris’ greatest songs (not to mention some rarities heard for the very first time on an official release).
Even so, it is still the original 1995 Tomorrow The Green Grass album that is the main event here. Despite receiving unanimous praise from critics when it was originally released, the album was largely slept upon in terms of actual record sales. Today, it is regarded as a classic and rightfully so.
As good as its predecessor Hollywood Town Hall was, Tomorrow The Green Grass was the defining moment where the Jayhawks first began to shed some of their more obvious country-rock influences (Burritos, Byrds, Everlys, and Neil Young primarily) heard on the former album, and begin to find their own unique voice as songwriters and as a band. Not that these influences are abandoned altogether here. Indeed, the harmonies are sweeter and crisper sounding than ever before on songs like “Two Hearts” and especially the absolutely gorgeous album opener “Blue.”
But lying just beyond that twangy exterior, you can also hear echoes of everyone from the Band to the Stones and even latter day Grand Funk Railroad (on a great cover of the latter’s Motown influenced “Bad Time”). If anything, on Tomorrow The Green Grass the Jayhawks wear their sixties and seventies rock bonafides on their sleeves just as comfortably as they do their well-worn Gram Parsons cowboy boots.
The guitar riffs which power “Ten Little Kids” for example, are taken straight from Exile-era Stones (and from “Tumblin’ Dice” in particular). “Sleep While You Can,” one of five bonus tracks on the first disc here, likewise takes the riff from Badfinger’s “No Matter What” and simply speeds it up. And if “Red’s Song” doesn’t borrow more than a little from The Band’s classic “The Weight,” I simply don’t know what does.
But the biggest difference here musically is the addition of keyboardist Karen Grotberg, whose tinkling ivories add a new dimension to the Jayhawks sound on tracks ranging from the hymn like electric piano heard on “Ann Jane,” to the straight out honky tonk of “Last Cigarette” (another bonus track, which also features lead vocals from Grotberg). Largely unknown at the time, Grotberg had the unenviable task of replacing the studio vets like Nicky Hopkins and Benmont Tench heard on Hollywood Town Hall. Her keys are an absolute delight throughout Tomorrow The Green Grass.
With a set of warm-up dates just completed (where the Jayhawks performed both the Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow The Green Grass albums in their entirety), rumors of a reunion album and a more extensive tour later this year are running high.
If this is indeed the case, don’t miss them if they come to a town near you. In the meantime, this excellent expanded edition of the Jayhawks greatest album is a great introduction to the band who more or less provided the blueprint for what we today refer to as alt-country.