he Jayhawks' new album, "Rainy Day Music," is perhaps its best effort to date. Ethan Johns produced this sad, yet still jangle-y album. It's a disc filled with songs about girls with problems, about recognizing life's spiritual side and - maybe more than anything else - just about making pretty music to wile away the long hours during those many rainy Minneapolis days.
Now down to a just a compact trio, singer Gary Louris, drummer Tim O'Reagan and bassist Marc Perlman continue to turn their rainy days into beautiful musical rainbows.
Both Louris and Perlman have stuck it out from the very beginning. And while they may not have always thrived, they've nevertheless survived, in a band where change is about the only constant.
"Survivor is a good word," says Perlman. "I guess Gary and I are both survivors. I could always just be stupid, too. I don't really know."
Even with such brave stick-to-it-ness, Perlman - as well as the other Jayhawks - have still sometimes entertained the thought of taking flight now and again. "We've all been tempted, not so much to leave the fold, but to call it a day. You just have certain days where you just don't feel like doing it. But you sort of change your mind, and the next day you feel like doing it. When you get on tour, you realize why you're doing it. But when you're in a van driving through a snowstorm for 12 hours, you wonder why you're doing it. It's a matter of perspective."
Perlman is speaking from a beautiful Hampton Inn, somewhere along the east cost during a mostly acoustic tour. And when this tour finishes, the band will go back at it again, only this time it will be as a fully amplified unit. This next arrangement will also includes former Long Ryder Stephen McCarthy on guitar. It's just not unusual anymore for such notable figures to play with a band that once included the talented songwriter Mark Olson among its ranks.
In fact, Matthew Sweet, Jakob Dylan, Chris Stills and former Eagle Bernie Leadon all contributed to the new album.
Major lineup changes can lead directly to the end of weaker bands, but such is not the case with The Jayhawks. Ironically, the many changes of this group - both in musical direction and personal - may have actually contributed to this group's ability to stand the test of time.
"There will be a time where we'll have to hang it up," Perlman muses. "We can't be doing this forever. Or it might change. We've gone through a lot of personnel changes, and we've also gone through periods of our career where we've really scaled back the work we've done. That contributes to our longevity."
One must also believe that the creation of an album like "Rainy Day Music" ought to feel like a real shot in the arm, as well as a significant source of pride for the group - especially after the lukewarm reception it received for the previous Bob Ezrin-produced "Smile" album. But The Jayhawks haven't become such toughened survivors by wasting time worrying over a few bad album reviews.
"We are (proud of "Rainy Day Music")," admits Perlman. "But we're also proud of every record we've made. Our fans or the critics may disagree, but we think that every record we've put out is pretty special."
And where critics might say that "Rainy Day Music" is better than the group's prior effort, Perlman will only admit that it's at least different.
"I can tell you what makes it different, and that's the fact that we sort of stripped it down and didn't put a lot of instruments on it and didn't beat the songs into the ground. And that's maybe different than records we've done in the past. But it doesn't make it any more special for me than any other record we've done in the past."
Perlman will probably always remember the recording of this project as a relatively enjoyable experience. But then again, when making an album only requires a few short weeks, who wouldn't enjoy such a brief period of studio labor?
"It felt easy, and it was satisfying," he says. "It was quite painless. That's the word I like to use to describe it. Personally, I wasn't as involved in it as were Tim and Gary. They were there for the entire period of the recording, and I was only there for the first couple of weeks. Once we got the bass and the drums done, I went home, which made it even more painless. Once I finished my bass parts, they were done. They didn't need me to fix them. We did the bass and the drums and some of the acoustic guitars first. And since I don't really sit around the studio unless I'm doing something, I got on a plane and went home."
Perlman may not have been in the studio for every waking moment of the recording, yet he still contributed one of its most significant songs. The words of "Will I See You In Heaven" wonders philosophically if the song's storyteller will see a friend who has passed on, once he too reaches heaven. And like "Come To The Water"- and in an indirect way, like "Stumbling Through The Dark" - this track is one of this album's more spiritual moments. Oddly enough, it was not even written specifically for the project.