As one half of the beating heart of The Jayhawks, Mark Olson helped champion a new take on tight-harmonised, country rock, which pretty much set a template for what modern Americana could be all about. Love, marriage, quitting the Jayhawks and a new musical vehicle followed and then in the blink of an eye it was all gone. But unlike the famous observation that American life has no second acts, Mark Olson is back, with a new album and a slightly new sound.
Obviously touches of his previous Americana flavours from his days both as a Jayhawk and as part of Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers prevail but this time there are some interesting and intriguing ingredients to be found in the mix. Featuring his wife Ingunn Ringvold, a seasoned player of the Armenian Qanon, its lush wash of strings not only add a shimmering quality to the music but introducing some lovely north European folk vibes and the resulting meeting of New World country and Old World traditions sits wonderfully together.
The more unexpected feature of the album is its almost retro style, reminiscent at times of a 60’s psych-pop band or a coffee-shop troubadour, baroque elements and orchestral motifs creep in and even the harmony phrasing often tips its hat to less complicated musical times. It is at once, chilled, lush, honest and lovely, it is always sonically restrained and musically clean-limbed and stays perfectly on the right side of twee, instead opting for sweet and charming. It probably isn’t going to change the world musically, but charming isn’t a bad place to be in the scheme of things.