The Jayhawks ‘XOXO’ Album Review

The Jayhawks recently issued their strongest record in years, issuing a commanding challenge to others in the roots/alt-country arena. XOXO came out in July 2020, and while its considerable merits were immediately apparent, the album continues to dominate our listening sessions of current music.

The band has long been considered one of America’s best, having delivered the classic Hollywood Town  album in 1992 as their first major label release. Since then they’ve released eight studio albums, quietly gathering a reputation for their songwriting chops and instrumental poise. Add to this their ethereal harmonies, and on this new release, more collaboration between team members, and we have a revitalized and vital band.

Key tracks on this new album: “Living in a Bubble”, “Bitter Bill”, and the gorgeous vocal by Karen Grotberg on “Across My Field”, accompanied by shimmering piano. Simply lovely, Karen’s performance is strongly reminiscent of Margo Timmins and The Cowboy Junkies. The following tune “Little Victories” is a compelling track that drives hard from beginning to end – laid back vocals stretch out tautly against a relentless beat. Invigorating to say the least.

The band has been through innumerable cast changes, and are down to four members: founder and chief writer Gary Louris (guitar and lead vocals),Tim O’Reagan on drums and vocals, Marc Perlman on bass and lead vocals, and Karen Grotberg on keyboards and vocals. Though Gary made a few dynamite solo and collaborative releases, he returned to the fold and now collaborates freely with his bandmates.

Their influences range from The Band to Neil Young and The Byrds.  They have managed to forge their own distinctive sound, transforming those influences into current relevance with grace and power. With better songwriting than The National, with better singing than The Band of Horses, and with staying power, The Jayhawks are poised for major recognition.

It’s taken 30 years and many ups and downs with personnel changes, but The Jayhawks have survived and prevailed to become one of America’s quintessential bands. Highly recommended.