Ready For the Flood
Mark Olson & Gary Louris
New West Records
By James Calemine
It's been over 14 years since Mark Olson and Gary Louris collaborated on The Jayhawks' 1995 CD Tomorrow The Green Grass. After years of traveling separate paths, Louris tried to keep the Jayhawks going and Olson moved to the desert with Victoria Williams. The Jayhawks were never really the same without Olson. At the same time, Olson never really generated music to rival his old band. For years the two did not communicate...
On Ready For the Flood Olson and Louris put aside the past to rekindle their musical partnership. Produced by The Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, these 13 songs contain a depth that requires multiple listenings to obtain its real power. This stands as a singer-songwriter type album. It's heady rock and roll with folk-style instrumentation. Since their collaborative hiatus, Olson and Louris never lost their ability to construct interesting music which emerges on Ready For the Flood.
"The Rose Society" opens the CD and suddenly 15 years evaporate at the sound of the Olson and Louris' vocal harmonies. This acoustic song enables the workshop lyrics to resonate as one hears their latest work in old glories revisited. "Bicycle" travels a Dylan path, but Robinson's invisible country-twang influence can be heard in this storyline song.
"Turn Your Pretty Name Around" continues a heavy-lidded, quiet direction this album seems to take at this point. A weeping pedal steel echoes some sort of sorrow that causes the music to influence the listener. A world-weary tone emanates from these tunes. Olson and Louris, now past youth, intend to continue playing songs in the tradition of the old bluesmen on Ready For the Flood.
"Saturday Morning On A Sunday Street" evokes Fred Neil and Tim Hardin's folk inclinations and street players sensibilities that proves to be classic 'Jayhawk' riddle-poem. "Kick The Wood" counts as another word-play music game they've built on all their material up to this point. A sad organ moans in the background on "Kick The Wood" to enhance their acoustic guitars and clear vocals.
"How'd we get so tired and helpless?" they sing in "Chamberlain, SD", which counts as the first song with an upbeat demeanor. Louris' guitar prowess does not emerge until this song, and even then his few licks are played in an emotive fashion. It's about what he's not playing. The next track, "Black Eyes" returns to a Nick Drake droning sound that sends the listener back under to an indigo mood.
"Doves and Stones" remind one of the Everly Brothers or even the Louvin Brothers in the way these two craft their words around melodies. Only together do they achieve such musical heights. "My Gospel Song To You" exists as a well crafted song. In fact, every song on this album is a well-crafted song. The material proves rainproof...
"When The Wind Comes Up" counts as one of the best songs Olson and Louris have ever written together. An eerie meloncholy threads this composition like some sad alchemy. In the words "There's no home without you here" reminds the listener the good old days may not return in terms of what each person's past holds. Louris' electric guitar in this song smells of pure desperate sorrow.
"Bloody Hands" sounds like some old country record. It doesn't sound like a tune recorded in 2008. Perhaps the mandolin and banjo verifies Ready For the Flood captures a timeless appeal in these uneasy days in the new year of our Lord, 2009.
"Life's Warm Sheets" travels down the coffeehouse alleys Dylan, Fred Neil and Neil Young traversed throughout their careers. At this point, one might wish for a couple of more electric songs, but the continuance of mood eschews any doubt on track sequence.
The final song, "The Trap's Been Set" closes Ready For the Flood. As they sing, "I'm getting ready for the flood" one can hear that Gary Louris and Marc Olson have resigned themselves to always commit to their strength in songwriting. Ready For the Flood exists as an essential volume in the careers of Mark Olson and Gary Louris. One can only hope they continue to write songs together. Even in sad songs, things are a little brighter with them around...