After enjoying an international release, stateside audiences have finally been granted (legal) access to Ready for the Flood, the new album by Mark Olson and Gary Louris. Why this album had to take so long to land at home in the good ol’ U.S. of A. is beyond me. Whether or not the album is worth the wait, however, can be answered simply enough. Absolutely.
We can look beyond release dates. Fans of The Jayhawks, the alt-country outfit founded by Olson and Louris, have been waiting nearly fourteen years for this album to happen. After the release of The Jayhawks’ Tomorrow the Green Grass, Olson left the band, while Louris continued on as its undisputed leader for another decade. Whispers of a new album between Olson and Louris arose when they went on a short tour together back in ’05.
With producer Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes) behind the controls, the pair finally recorded Ready for the Flood, and the partnership sounds as strong as ever. It seems that Robinson’s agenda was to remind us just how great the voices of these former band mates sound together. Even on the one “rock” number, “Chamberlain, SD”, he has Olson’s and Louris’s voices pushed to the forefront, relegating the electric guitar to the background. This may not work on other records, but it works here.
Separating most of these tracks from standard, acoustic fare are the beautiful harmonies provided by these two old friends, together again. This is what the music and the title of the album encapsulate: a long-lasting partnership that can survive anything. “The house of love still standing” in the opening track, “The Rose Society”, is an answer to any of us who may have questioned whether this reunion would be a successful endeavor.
Once it gets in your head, the chorus of the Dylan-esque “Bicycle” will remain. The convergence of voices by line three of the chorus for “Turn Your Pretty Name Around” is outstanding. The melodies found in “Doves and Stones” will remind you of classic Simon & Garfunkel. But it is in the music of songs such as “My Gospel Song for You” and “Life’s Warm Sheets” that recall the most important music of all: early Jayhawks tunes, featuring Mark Olson and Gary Louris.
There are some missteps along the way. The front half of the record is stronger than the second half, and the spoken-word verses of the final track, “The Trap’s Been Set”, prevent this album from perfection. With that in mind, I don’t believe it was Olson and Louris’s intention to create a flawless masterpiece. What they have created is a very good, calming piece of genuine Americana that sounds timeless. Springsteen will get (deservedly) the most press with his new album this week, but one can only hope Ready for the Flood will get the attention it deserves.