Despite years that swirled members, memories, and dreams, one thing remained constant for The Jayhawks since forming in 1985 in Minneapolis: their sound. It’s instantly familiar, laced with clear vocals, luscious harmonies, often spare, jangly yet definitive instrumentation, and lyrics recurringly stamped with a slightly jaded, slightly romantic persecution complex, led by the gifted songwriting, impeccable playing, and honeyed harmonies. The result is music The Jayhawks could play live as a bar band and have the audience believing they’d already heard the songs on the radio.
Maybe that’s why in the early ‘90s they were signed to a record label on the strength of one of their albums being overheard by a producer at the other end of a phone call. But label, magnetism, fan base or not, the band, and their fortunes, waxed and waned, until the hearth fire went out for years at a time, only to be coaxed back to life and jerry-rigged together by reunion tours, guitar strings, and the glue of their songs. Well, what didn’t kill them made them stronger, with their 2020 album XOXO featuring all four long time members trading vocals and songwriting.
But you don’t need to understand their history or hear them on the radio or over the phone to fall in love with The Jayhawks and their music. You just need to open your ears, listen, and let go.
Biography by Mary-Lynn Wardle