Hollywood Town Hall
Def American Records, 1992
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/24/1997
It's time for another episode of "Mr. Thelen Changes His Mind," that ever popular program where your favorite reviewer (me) takes his foot out of his mouth long enough to admit his first impression of an album was incorrect.
Today's teacher: Scott Floman, who not only questioned my sanity for finding weakness in an album by Sugar but also brought back to my attention The Jayhawks, and their Def American debut Hollywood Town Hall fron 1992. My first impression: decent, but boring. So, off it went to the hidden depths of the now-famous Pierce Memorial Archives (good seats still available for our Academy Awards party) - that is, until Mr. Floman suggested it for review.
One opinion of The Jayhawks hasn't changed - they are a decent band, but I withdraw my original decree of boring. They produce a sound which reminds me of Matthew Sweet, only with a country twang to the tunes. The melodies and vocal harmonies of Hollywood Town Hall make this a quick, but satisfying listen.
Ah, the vocal harmonies. Guitarists Mark Olson and Gary Louris blend together perfectly. While this is true of dozens of groups, it is the songwriting behind the vocals that make the match special. "Nevada, California" is a perfect example of this mesh. Another example is "Crowded In The Wings," with Olson's harmonica adding a whole new layer to the melody.
Sometimes the power comes in the subtleties of the performances. Bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Ken Callahan stay in the background most of the album, but the solid backbeat they provide for most of the music on this album is just as important.
The one song which continually sticks out in my mind is "Take Me With You (When You Go)," though I can't explain why. Even when I first listened to this CD five years ago, that song stuck out as the highlight.
One of the most powerful cuts on the album is "Two Angels," which paints a vivid lyrical picture of dreariness that makes the listener pay attention. The brief "Martin's Song" and "Clouds" also tell interesting stories backed with solid msuical accompaniment.
I can't think of a single poor performance on Hollywood Town Hall - the excellence is uniform throughout the album. However, the only weakness in the mix is the formula gets a little tired near the end of the album. Sometimes you're waiting for the band to break out of the power-country they are playing and go gonzo a la the Eagles, but they don't allow this to happen. Too bad - it would have been interesting to hear what they could have done.
So, I am yet again taught a lesson by a member of the readership. Scott, you were right - this was an album that is worth checking out. (Interesting to note that The Jayhawks have a new album coming out next month - I thought I had heard the band broke up. I'll be waiting outside the door of Best Buy to grab this one when it comes out.)