Many of you don’t know who The Jayhawks are. But you should.
I was introduced to The Jayhawks in 2000 on my local public radio station. Back then, National Public Radio was on during drive times, but the rest of the programming was mostly local DJs playing local and independent music. Sad to say, most of the programming is political in nature now, and music shows are relegated to the wee hours. I’ve quit listening.
But in the early 2000s, I was introduced to a number of bands I would never have heard on mainstream FM radio. Kim Richey, Allison Moorer, Uncle Tupelo, and The Jayhawks. I actually heard Lucinda Williams for the first time on public radio, before her Car Wheels on a Gravel Road album became a success. Uncle Tupelo went on to become two bands you probably have heard of, Jeff Tweety formed Wilco and Son Volt became Jay Farrar’s band. But The Jayhawks, Kim Richey, Cross Canadian Ragweed and many others were lost in a genre that is fast disappearing and is often relegated to “Country” stations. In fact, this rock music is called “alt-country” now and it doesn’t feel comfortable in today’s country or rock radio formats.
It seems any modern rock bands with a folk or southern influence are tagged “country” today. There’s something not right about that, mainly because I don’t listen to Country music. Country means George Jones or Merle Haggard or Loretta Lynn to me and with few exceptions that doesn’t hold much interest. Country is big, though, and getting bigger. And it is swallowing up bands like The Jayhawks. Heck, the only place you can hear The Eagles today is on country radio â€“ The Eagles’ latest album even won some “Best Country Album” awards. Thirty years ago, these alt-country bands would have been the heirs of The Byrds and The Eagles, The Mamas & The Papas and Carole King. Today they are lost in a musical in-between land where they can not find the mass audience they deserve.
The Jayhawks are a prime example of this unfortunate state of affairs. They have produced six records, including Mockingbird Time, released in 2011 â€“ eight years after their previous studio album, Rainy Day Music. They are not a household name even though albums like 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall and 2000’s Smile are classics comparable to anything from The Eagles or Jackson Browne. Certainly better than anything the more poplar Wilco or Drive-by Truckers have produced.
But most of you don’t know who The Jayhawks are. Maybe you should.
[ A list of Jayhawks songs is in the My Playlist section. The selections include songs from all 6 of their studio albums. These are simply my favorites across The Jayhawks’ career. Many of their more popular songs and/or songs they tend to do live are not here â€“ songs like A Break in the Clouds (that includes the line that is the headline for this commentary) from Smile or Wichita and Martin’s Song from Hollywood Town Hall or Miss Williams’ Guitar from Tomorrow the Green Grass. Those are all great songs, too, and you should listen to them all. ]