Review by LarryG|
3½ stars out of 4
On Smile, Jayhawks singer/songwriter Gary Louris again shows his
skill for making tuneful but textured songs. Smile doesn't have the
same depth as the Jayhawks' last record, the sad and slowly unfolding
masterpiece Sound of Lies, but the upside is that it's happier and
more fun. Bob Ezrin, who has produced Kiss and Pink Floyd, seems like
a strange choice to produce a Jayhawks CD but Louris apparently was
looking for someone who could give the band a big, accessible sound.
Indeed, Smile is a great sounding record. But its main attraction is
Louris' graceful writing and arrangements.
Louris shows an intention to keep things on the brighter side
right from the start of the Jayhawks' new CD with the title track.
Sound of Lies also had a song, Haywire, that could have been called
Smile since that word is sung repeatedly. But on Haywire, the advice
is to get past the bad stuff. On the new CD, the advice is based on
the fact things are actually pretty good. Smile is saved from being
banal self help talk by Louris' sincerity and the easy, pristine
musical feel. The music builds from a quiet piano, with sweeping
strings and backup harmonies (urging "find something inside you"),
creating a sense of majesty. Louris' improved mood is even clearer on
I'm Gonna Make You Love, maybe the band's poppiest song ever. Louris
is goofily appealing, admitting "I'll never be all you want" but
remaining dogged in his pursuit of his "perfect lover." Louris doesn't
have the greatest vocal range but his singing is unassuming and
likable. The harmonies on the chorus have the breezy charm of the
Mamas & the Papas. Country instruments mix smoothly with the glossy
The Jayhawks' sound has evolved from Louris and Mark Olson's
earnest and somewhat awkward but appealingly heartfelt songs on
Hollywood Town Hall to the more polished and tuneful Louris/Olson
melodies of Tomorrow the Green Grass, to the subtle, painstakingly
constructed Sound of Lies, the first record after Olson's departure.
Throughout, Jayhawks songs have been based around great harmonies. The
vocals of drummer Tim O'Reagan and keyboard player Karen
Grotberg(replaced during the Smile sessions by Jen Gunderman) helped
the band survive losing Olson. Throughout Smile, the harmonies create
a warm, welcoming glow. The generally positive feeling of the lyrics
is matched by the music. What Led Me To This Town is a sweet love song
where Louris sings, without embarrassment, "can you keep it a secret,
I'm in love with you." The song finds transcendence in the chorus with
a breathtaking vocal arrangement communicating Louris' sense of
belonging, "blue lights shining over my life." A Break In The Clouds
starts as a fairly basic countryish love song but soars on the chorus
with Louris, Grotberg and O'Reagan harmonizing, "every time I see your
face, it's like cool, cool water running down my back." Even Better
Days, a sad song about having lost a chance at a great love, gleams
thanks to Louris' empathy and warm harmonies. Louris also finds mellow
bliss on Broken Harpoon, a beautifully simple ballad with just his
unassuming voice and acoustic guitar and an inobtrusive atmospheric
synth, and Mr. Wilson, where Louris' vocal about being protected by a
guardian angel is broken by a carefree whistle.
While finding many moments of quiet greatness, the band doesn't
have the same desire as on Sound of Lies to consistently achieve
sublime, delicate sound. Smile is often just about having fun. Louris
has a good time on Life Floats By, a fairly mindless straight ahead
rocker, singing he's out of here to a woman he never loved and letting
loose on his guitar. The dumbing down goes too far on Pretty Thing.
Bass player Marc Perlman wrote Trouble, a brilliant song from Sound of
Lies, but his main contribution to Smile is pointless, bitter and
draggy. Wildest Dreams has a perky charm but the story about an
unworthy band with a hit, with its ridiculously frenetic electronic
beat, is basically a dopey throwaway. But Queen Of The World is a
joyful rocker in which Louris finds multiple ways to express his
love(you're a rose among the reeds, you send me kisses made of gold)
while strings and light percussion create a buoyant mood. And Baby,
Baby, Baby ends Smile on a very high note, encapsulating the record's
optimistic feel of Louris trying to share his happiness. Louris'
dense, piercing guitar and O'Reagan solid beat create an enthusiastic
mood. Louris' pure, yearning vocal is about a love so beautiful,
there's no way he can walk away.
Smile is an enjoyable work from a band that's loosened up but
still went to great care in constructing a very good record.