"Rainy Day Music"

Lost Highway

Nearly 20 years down the alt-country road, a path they helped chart, the Jayhawks sound older and wiser, more inclined to reflect than rock and more willing than ever to sustain a soulful mood that nearly stretches from one end of an album to the other. Or at least that's the impression left by "Rainy Day Music," a mostly subdued and often melancholy addition to the Jayhawks' impressive discography.

While "Smile," the band's previous disc, radiated a popish glow, "Rainy Day Music" is rootsy and pensive. The group's ever-changing lineup still boasts singer-songwriter and co-founder Gary Louris, and this time around the band makes room for cameos by Matthew Sweet, ex-Eagle Bernie Leadon and Wallflower Jakob Dylan, who contributes a vocal to the album's rousing, gospel-inflected interlude "Come to the River."

The prevailing mood, though, is decidedly low-key and introspective, complete with rueful choruses ("Angelyne"), repeated admonitions ("Save It for a Rainy Day") and a series of lean arrangements that subtly incorporate transatlantic influences, from the chiming folk-rock sound of "Stumbling Through the Dark" to the Brit-pop harmonies heard on "The Eyes of SarahJane" and "You Look So Young." Strings surface here and there, making the Lennonesque ballad "Don't Let the World Get in Your Way" all the more evocative, but for the most part the Jayhawks, with the help of producer Ethan Johns, keep things simple, often hauntingly so.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at the Birchmere. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Jayhawks, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8127. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)