When the Dixie Chicks topped the charts for the final time with 2006’s Taking the Long Way — the trio’s bruised and battered tribute to nonconformity, written in the wake of Natalie Maines’ controversial comments about President George W. Bush — they did so with help from several left-field collaborators. Indie-folk cool kid Pete Yorn co-wrote one track. So did Crowded House’s Neil Finn. Sheryl Crow, Keb’ Mo’ and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Mike Campbell all contributed songs, too.
Sharing one of the heaviest co-writing loads was the Jayhawks’ Gary Louris, whose four tunes accounted for nearly 30 percent of the album.
And why shouldn’t the best-selling country act of the modern age turn to Louris for help? Since forming the Jawhawks in 1985, he’d built his reputation on songs that were smart and intensely melodic, rooted in choruses that blurred the lines between rock & roll and its twangier cousins. During the decade that followed his Dixie Chicks collaboration, he’d be called upon to team up with more than a dozen other acts, quietly becoming one of Americana’s unsung poster children along the way.
The Wild Feathers, Jakob Dylan, Tonic and Carrie Rodriguez have all written with Louris since 2006. Although many of those songs have already been released by those acts, they’re revisited (and revised) on the Jayhawks’ newest record, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. Largely focused on new recordings of the songs Louris has written for other artists, the album doubles down on the Jayhawks’ thickly-stacked harmonies and melodic muscle. Bandmates Tim O’Reagan and Karen Grotberg even sing lead on two songs each, a move that highlights the album’s collaborative spirit.
“These did not feel like covers,” Louris says in promotional video, which mixes interview snippets with studio footage. “These songs all felt like they were in our wheelhouse.”
Leading the charge is “Everybody Knows,” a kickoff single whose original version appeared on the Dixie Chicks’ Taking the Long Way. Reappearing 10 years later on Back Roads and Abandoned Motels, the song’s lyrics feel less like a response to the political backlash that all but halted the Chicks’ momentum and, instead, read like the journal entries of an anxious Everyman who’s bluffing his way through a panic attack. When the swooning, coed harmonies light up the first chorus, though, it’s a moment of pure Jayhawks heaven, proof that Gary Louris often gets the last word – even when outspoken icons like Natalie Maines are involved. (Coincidentally, “Come Crying to Me” – a song written for Natalie Maines’ solo debut, Mother – also appears in its own version here.)
Rounded out by two Louris originals, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels makes its debut July 13th.
Here’s the track list for Back Roads and Abandoned Motels:
1. “Come Cryin’ to Me” (Gary Louris, Natalie Maines, Martie Maguire, Emily Robison)
2.” Everybody Knows” (Gary Louris, Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, Martie Maguire)
3. “Gonna Be a Darkness” (Jakob Dylan, Gary Louris)
4. “Bitter End” (Emily Robison, Natalie Maines, Gary Louris, Martie Maguire)
5. “Backwards Women” (Gary Louris, Joel King, Taylor Burns, Ricky Young)
6. “Long Time Ago” (Emerson Hart, Gary Louris)
7. “Need You Tonight” (Scott Thomas, Gary Louris, Kristen Hall)
8. “El Dorado” (Carrie Rodriguez, Gary Louris, Malcolm Burn, Sandra Jennifer (Sandrine) Daniels)
9. “Bird Never Flies” (Ari Hest, Gary Louris)
10. “Carry You to Safety” (Gary Louris)
11. “Leaving Detroit” (Gary Louris)