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The Jayhawks The Jayhawks
Album: XOXO
Label: Sham/Thirty Tigers
Tracks: 12

When The Jayhawks gathered at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota last year it was decided the time for a more democratic approach was upon them.

The way they had voted to tackle the writing and singing processes in previous releases could mainly be regarded as successful with one stone-cold masterpiece, 1992's Hollywood Town Hall, among them. Yet on this occasion they agreed it was "time to open things up."

Each member set about writing with great gusto, supporting and encouraging one another and XOXO, their 11th album, has emerged as a true reflection and a glowing example of a band where individuality counts but never blocks the overall atmosphere or resonance that makes The Jayhawks sound the way The Jayhawks are expected to sound.

The dynamics involving all four, long-time members - Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Karen Grotberg and Tim O'Reagan - ensure this is an unmistakably vibrant offering over 12 well-crafted and free-flowing tracks where luxurious harmonies, tightly-honed guitars, sleepy pianos, sweet country rock and soft ballads seek and grab your attention, proving they are bang on form.

Opener, This Forgotten Town, boldly declares they are back: the unmistakable mix of simple lyrics, resigned vocals with gutsy guitar work and splendid piano are their hallmarks.

The warming tones of Ruby are one of Grotberg's offerings. It is alluring, slow, dreamy and gorgeous with heavy piano and harmonies as pleasing as hugs from a lover carrying the gentle lyrics: "Ruby, all the rest you wanted / Two shadows floating on / Two shadows floating on the last day of summer."

Similarly, on Across My Field, the song moves delicately on flimsy piano, feather light drumming, strings and focused singing that waft like bubbles on the breeze - a near five-minute long, timeless gem.

Homecoming is smothered effectively in a cloud of multi tracking while the boisterous Society Pages bumps along with driving tints of Wilco and Pavement: "Are you here for the society paper / Are you here for all the young queers / Are you here acting their age / Trying to make the society page?"

Down To The Farm, hushed, low key and elegant, is delivered very much embracing the tones Brian Wilson brings to his compositions, perfectly showing the range of moods The Jayhawks can satisfyingly and so readily deliver through their new-found approach to communal writing. XOXO demonstrates it all so ably and vividly.

Mike Ritchie