As befits this year of the pandemic lockdown, Jayhawks’ leader and main songwriter Gary Louris has delivered his second solo album, Jump For Joy, a more intimate project where he wrote, sang, played all the instruments, and produced. The Jayhawks album released last year, XOXO, was more of a group effort, including more creative contributions from the others in the band than in the past. So, it’s actually fun to hear Louris flesh out this album’s ten tracks exactly as he imagines them sounding, from the power pop of opener “Almost Home” all the way through the lengthy reflection in “Dead Man’s Burden” on the meaning of existence that builds to a Beatlesque orchestration by the song’s 8 minute conclusion.
While the disc opens with a simple, inviting Big Star-like chord progression, Louris surprises with 80’s synth pop doodling for embellishments, but that Beatle vibe is continued in the vocal harmonies of “Living In Between,” where he confesses being “a simple man in a complicated world” before a bright guitar double lead melds with the vocals. Two more lighter, bright spots appear in “Follow” and “New Normal,” warm brotherly harmonies that recall Crowded House in the first, and a curious, yet tasty backward guitar solo on the latter. But the album isn’t all power pop “Joy,” as Louris offers up some quieter, more reflective singer/songwriter ruminations in “White Squirrel,” “Too Late the Key,” and “One Way Conversation,” again with some fine guitar soloing on the latter one.
While the entire album feels somewhat fresh and definitely personal, Louris may be revealing more about himself in his tribute to fiction writer, “Mr. Updike,” when he wonders if they share “the writer’s life,” and if at times the writer of the “Rabbit” series of novels ever felt lonely, only understood in his work. Louris’ may echo Updike’s reputation as a workaholic, as a writer who has contributed songs to The Chicks, Tedeschi Trucks, and numerous others beyond his work with The Jayhawks as well as the Americana supergroup Golden Smog, but here working as a solo artist he’s in complete control. Jump For Joy is a well-rounded musical collection, a definitive artistic expression of a year in the life.
Key Tracks: “Almost Home” / “Living In Between” / “Mr. Updike”
Artists With Similar Fire: The Jayhawks / Jeff Tweedy / Joe Henry
-Reviewed by Brian Q. Newcomb