From the time they took flight in 1985, Minnesota's Jayhawks were described as an alternative-country act, but the band's original co-leaders, Mark Olson and Gary Louris, have never sounded as country as they do on their new duo album, "Ready for the Flood." With an emphasis on close-harmony singing and acoustic-guitar picking, the disc recalls such fraternal teams as the Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers.
Olson and Louris aren't related by blood, but they have a long, tangled history together. When Olson left the Jayhawks in 1995, Louris carried on as the band's leader and primary singer-songwriter. But when the Jayhawks broke up in 2003, Olson and Louris began touring and writing together. That led to the 2007 sessions that are finally being released as "Ready for the Flood"; Louris's solo album, "Vagabonds," was recorded later but released first. As the producer of both projects, the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson supplies a surprising minimalism.
That understated approach serves Louris's gorgeous melodies well. When his lovely tunes unfurl on such songs as "Bicycle" and "Black Eyes," the music offers the meaning that Olson's cryptic lyrics merely hint at. Unfortunately, the singers and their producer never come up with the polished harmonies and taut rhythms that were so essential to the Everlys' and Louvins' records. "Chamberlain, SD," the one song that does boast a lively beat, suggests what this album could have achieved. As it is, "Ready for the Flood" sounds like a bunch of promising but half-finished demos.
-- Geoffrey Himes, Weekend (Feb. 2009)