When the Jayhawks eased into the public consciousness with 1989's Blue Earth, their sound was so timeless it was like hearing their 10th album instead of their second — and little wonder. The Jayhawks forged their rootsy Americana pop sound from Bob Dylan's folk authenticity, Gram Parsons' country, Neil Young's rough-hewn guitar rock and the Everly Brothers' angelic harmonies. They'd only begun, and the Jayhawks seemed ready to be fitted for their Hall of Fame induction tuxes. Sadly, tensions within the band and apathy within the industry sealed the Jayhawks' fate; Mark Olson's 1995 departure, Gary Louris' reconfiguring the band in his own dark image and the lack of breakthrough success were all steps toward an inevitable end.
So Music From the North Country, the Jayhawks' new career-spanning compilation, could have been viewed as a beautiful epitaph for an incredibly undervalued American band. But the 2008 reunion of Louris and Olson for the duo's Ready for the Flood album led to a one-off Jayhawks appearance at a Spanish festival that resulted in a few select Jayhawks dates in the U.S. this year. So North Country represents a possible new beginning rather than an unfortunate and premature end. North Country comes in two incarnations: as a single-disc, 20-track overview of the band's history and a three-disc deluxe package featuring a second disc of rarities (including "Falling Star," from the band's self-released debut, known as The Bunkhouse Album), B-sides, live tracks and demos, and a DVD containing six music videos and the electronic press kits for 1992's Hollywood Town Hall and 1997's Sound of Lies. For the uninitiated, the compilation is a great sampling of the Jayhawks' impressive catalog, but for fans, the second disc is a treasure trove of largely unreleased nuggets, from the raw demos to the European B-sides for 1995's "Bad Time." The DVD is similarly stocked with visual gems. The only thing that would make Music From the North Country better is if the Jayhawks used its release to announce a new studio album.
— Brian Baker
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