Back Roads And Abandoned Motels
Rating: 7.5 jiggly auctioneers out of 10
It may or may not be fair, but when a band has been around as long as the Jayhawks, my expectations with their new material are fairly low - at this point, their back catalog of good music is so deep any new addition that's enjoyable is seen as a bonus, and anything bad is easily forgotten.
The thing is, very little of "Back Roads And Abandoned Motels" is actually new - these are songs that front man Gary Louris wrote either with or for other performers (the Dixie Chicks, Jakob Dylan, and others). Louris apparently liked these particular compositions enough that he decided the Jayhawks should produce their own versions of them as well - and I'm quite glad they did. Louris even allows other band members tackle lead duties in a few places - particularly noteworthy is album opener "Come Cryin' To Me," supposedly sung by keyboardist Karen Grotberg but I'm not entirely sure it isn't really Aimee Mann singing and this is all an elaborate joke designed to fool fans*. My other favorite is "Gonna Be A Darkness," written with Dylan for the show "True Blood" that thankfully got rescued and repurposed, because it's a high water mark in Louris' storied song-writing career. He actually performs with Dylan on the original version, but this Jayhawks rendition is the superior version for my money.
Let's get real - the band is highly unlikely to ever release another "Tomorrow The Green Grass" or "Hollywood Town Hall" or even "Rainy Day Music," but they're still producing high quality music that deserves to be heard, no small feat for a band with so many years and so many changes under their belt.
*I actually saw Karen sing this song in concert quite recently, so I guess I have to accept this isn't Aimee Mann...but it still feels suspect.