Sound of Lies was the perfect album for the Jayhawks to showcase their talents on a livestream broadcast. The performance of that 1997 album on the Mandolin streaming platform Sunday night came from a band with a history worth revisiting, as well as by musicians who still enjoy one another’s company after almost 30 years.
The Mandolin format was a good one for this group, led by guitarist-vocalist Gary Louris. As advertised, the Jayhawks performed the Sound of Lies album in its entirety, the dozen songs in order as they appear on the album.
Sound of Lies is considered by many to be the Jayhawks’ best overall album. Louris has said it’s his favorite. It was the band’s first album after the departure of Mark Olson, who with Louris made the band’s two previous works, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass. Both of those were Americana touchstones. When Olson left in 1995 and Louris assumed full control, he broadened the Jayhawks’ palette. Though Tomorrow the Green Grass presented more variety than its predecessors, Sound of Lies took that diversification considerably further. The album reflected Louris’ broad influences (’60s British rock, pop, prog), and added moody singer-songwriter fare to the mix, all in the service of mostly downcast, sometimes downright cynical lyrics.
Opener “The Man Who Loved Life” was tough and tense. Louris’ cynical lyrics were buoyed—as with so many Jayhawks songs—by great harmonies, courtesy of drummer Tim O’Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg. Those three musicians were joined Sunday night by founding bassist Marc Perlman, former Jayhawks guitarist Kraig Johnson (who played on the original album) and violinist Marv Gohman. Louris explained that original Sound of Lies violinist Jessy Greene couldn’t travel to the Jayhawks’ Minnesota home for this gig because of COVID-19. “We started listening to Sound of Lies and realized there’s a lot of violin,” said Louris, who described Gohman’s hiring as “last-minute.”
That was a good hire, as it turned out, because violin truly is a key element to several Sound of Lies songs, including “The Man Who Loved Life,” the relatively playful “Stick in the Mud” and the album’s quiet, pretty title track. And Gohman played his parts on those and other songs beautifully.
So did the whole band. With the four key members being together for most of the past 30 years, that’s to be expected. Not necessarily expected, but quite welcome, was the extent to which the players tried to replicate the album’s sound. Louris got out his red Rickenbacker 12-string for “It’s Up to You,” the ringing guitar sound betraying bitter lyrics, as well as for O’Reagan’s “Bottomless Cup,” on which the drummer sings lead. In a similar vein, Perlman used a special bass to replicate the sound on the film-noir-ish “Dying on the Vine.” Gohman also replicated the shaker intro for that song.
Several of these songs remain Jayhawks concert favorites today. Louris introduced one of them, “Haywire,” as “a song people seem to request a lot …. because it’s great!”
Indeed, there was plentiful banter among band members, and viewers learned several bits of trivia, including that Louris and Johnson briefly operated Gallery Merlot (also referred to as “Cafe Merlot”), and that band members enjoyed quesadillas from a local Twin Cities restaurant called GuadalaHarry’s. If you’re a Jayhawks fan, that sort of inside info is gold.
One other bit of uncommon knowledge: The raucous song with which the band closed its livestream, “Until You Came Along,” now a concert standby, was originally recorded by the Jayhawks during the Sound of Lies sessions. It wasn’t included on that album, for reasons Louris didn’t share. But given that song’s joyful tenor, it probably would have been out of place on the lyrically downcast Sound of Lies. (It does appear, though, on the album Weird Tales by Golden Smog, a side project for Louris, Johnson and Perlman). Maybe not on the same plane as learning that “Strawberry Fields Forever” was recorded during the Sgt. Pepper sessions, but still a worthy nugget.
Follow journalist Sam Richards at Twitter.com/samrichardsWC.