A fusion of southern country meets psychedelic rock
XOXO might be a salute to the fans, by showing The Jayhawks’ appreciation and love in an album that is basically titled: “Hugs and Kisses.” This American alt-country band was established in 1985, with Mark Olson leading The Jayhawks with the acoustic guitar and vocals, Gary Louris fronts the band with the electric guitar and vocals, Marc Perlman on bass and Norm Rogers on drums. The Jayhawks released a total of 10 studio albums, with Mark Olson coming and going from the band. Currently, the band members are as follows: Gary Louris on electric guitar and lead vocals, Tim O’Reagan on drums and vocals, Karen Grotberg on keyboards and backup vocals, Marc Perlman on bass and John Jackson on the acoustic guitar, violin and mandolin.
The record cover of XOXO illustrates a vintage 1960’s woman sitting on the floor listening to music with vinyl records cast about on the floor. Musically, this is an eclectic album. One can immediately notice the tough Southern country essence that The Jayhawks exudes well, but this record displays heavy influences of 1960’s pop and psychedelic rock. If The Eagles, The Beatles and John Mellencamp all created an album, it would sound like this.
The album opens with “This Forgotten Town” that brings classic guitar strums and a booming petal drum to start XOXO off right. Clinking piano keys and 1970’s rock-style harmonizing adds another element of miscellaneous sounds that give The Jayhawks their “indie” genre title. Louris sings, “In the land of milk and honey, that’s where I laid my claim. But every day that I lost money, it brought me closer to the grave.” This song comes from a place of wisdom, as Louris, Perlman and O’Reagan write about the temptation that leads humanity to its doom. For example, the song describes a preacher that “had a cross to bear/ he smelled salvation in the air,” but his enticement by greed is what brought him to his downfall, placing him “six feet in the ground.” “This Forgotten Town” is a country-rock classic that sings of tender human experiences as a cautionary tale.
Tim O’Reagan solely wrote and sang “Dogtown Days,” a song that begins with the definitive hard rock kick drum and echoing grunge guitar strum. The song describes the angst that comes with realizing how foolish it is to need another person, as he sings, “Goodnight my Dogtown days… Everything I knew about you is dead, just south of heaven.” O’Reagan did not hold back in this power-rock song that packs a strong punch.
“Homecoming” is a more peaceful, psychedelic-infused indie song. There is an interesting blend between twinkling piano keys, smooth acoustic strums and falsetto vocals with the occasional, quick thundering electric guitar strum. The lyrics are an unsettling reality of the loss of innocence “all coming down” around them, while The Jayhawks sing, “Is there anyone else to come and save us?”
“Living in a Bubble” is a Beatles-esque track of staccato guitar/piano beats that resembles “A Day in the Life.” Louris writes this song about the media—how the news fans the flames of any issue by toying with the audience’s fear, how humans are addicted to electronic devices and the inescapable Big Brother.
Louris, Grotberg and O’Reagan co-wrote “Bitter Pill,” a Southern rock song that begins with a slow acoustic guitar strum interrupted by a twanging electric guitar solo on the same level as those of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The lyrics represent a narrative that describes the enigma of who Maggie is—a girl haunted by her demons who is “here today, but she won’t be here tomorrow” and “it’s a bitter pill to swallow.”
The Jayhawks display a musical evolution in XOXO, as they become well-crafted musicians and songwriters with an ear for textured sounds, leaving them as stars of modern rock ‘n’ roll.