Naming an album for a long-ago French novelist might seem a bit pretentious, but the Jayhawks have never been for everyone. A thinking-man’s alt-country band formed more than 30 years ago in Minneapolis, they’re back with their revived late-’90s lineup; Mark Olson is gone, but Gary Louris steps up beautifully, and co-produces with Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Tucker Martine (the Decemberists). Louris plays the role of a cosmic hippie looking for sanity: seeking to escape daily “ups and downs” in the Byrdsy “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces,” realizing there’s “more to life than just getting by” in “Lovers of the Sun,” and “sleeping it off in the Starbucks parking lot” in “Leaving the Monsters Behind.” The band evokes an almost airy Beatlesque sound at times, but also rocks hard on “The Dust of Long-Dead Stars,” where Louris admits “the floor is streaked with dreams and beer cursing that old sin ambition.” A bright, challenging album.
Essential “Quiet Corners & Empty Spaces”
The Jayhawks perform at Royale Boston June 13.
Steve Morse can be reached at email@example.com