My Own Jo Ellen

Mark Olson & The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers

Hightone Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/29/2001

I should have some respect for Mark Olson. He might not have been the founder of alt-country, but as a member of The Jayhawks, he helped to shape the genre into what it is today. With his new "group", The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers (which features his wife Victoria Williams and long-time friend Mike "Razz" Russell), Olson has continued to push forward a more folk-oriented version of alt-country - one which wouldn't be embraced by anyone except devotees of the pure form of the genre.

Maybe this is why Olson's latest effort, My Own Jo Ellen, doesn't have a user-friendly feel to it. The 10 songs which make up this disc do tell some interesting stories at times, but just doesn't have the same enchanting feeling that so many other albums in this genre do. Olson seems to take the stance that you either are with him on this musical journey or you're left behind; either way, he's got somewhere that his music is taking him. This might not be the best way to welcome the uninitiated.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Olson is not the strongest vocalist, a weakness which is evident throughout My Own Jo Ellen. This isn't to say that it's inappropriate for the style of music that is created here; the folk-like atmosphere almost calls for a voice like Olson's at times. Tracks like "Ben Johnson's Creek," "Rosalee" and "Walking Through Nevada" are evidence of this, and mark some of the strongest moments on the disc.

If only the bulk of My Own Jo Ellen were like this. It's not that songs such as "Someone To Talk With" or "Diamond Davey" are bad, but the manner in which the songs are delivered almost encourages the listener to push them into the background, thus losing any message the tracks may have. This, I don't think, was Olson's intention.

My Own Jo Ellen is also the kind of disc which takes much more than a few listens to really show the power it has. The first time I tried to listen to it, I was overwhelmed, and had to turn it off. A few listens later, certain tracks started to show their heads, suggesting they had more in store than one could pick up on a cursory listen or two. The question is how many people - other than those who have walked this musical path with Olson - will be willing to make such an investment.

My Own Jo Ellen requires the listener to stop and think about what's being said. Olson puts on a serious face throughout the course of the album - which might also be part of the underlying problem. With such a disc, even a slight break in the tension created in these stories may have helped things along. Regrettably, there is none.

My Own Jo Ellen is a disc which should please long-time fans of Olson's, even those who have followed him since his days with The Jayhawks. If you're a newcomer to this style of music, you might want to get a little better feeling of the genre before you tackle this one. After all, you need to learn to read before you tackle War And Peace.

Rating: C+

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© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Hightone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.