The Jayhawks: Smile (2000)

Of the crop of Americana bands that arose in the late 80s and early 90s, the Jayhawks were on the more country side of things, leaving their twang largely unadorned (in contrast to, say, Uncle Tupelo, who supercharged it with some Replacements-style post-punk).  But with the departure of co-found Mark Olson, Gary Louris took the band in an increasingly poppy direction, and by the time of 2000s Smile, the Jayhawks sounded more like a power-pop band in the vein of Big Star or Matthew Sweet than a roots-rock outfit.  And while this may have upset purists, I find that it's the Jayhawks album I listen to the most often (which isn't to speak ill of earlier classics like Tomorrow the Green Grass).

The title track kicks off the album in grand fashion, a sweeping baroque pop tune with soaring Beach Boys harmonies and a simply gorgeous chorus, one of the band's most winning tracks.  The arguably trite sentiment come across with such passion and shimmering sonics that it's impossible not to be sucked in.  Nearly as great is "What Led Me To This Town," a quieter tune but once again elevated by stunning harmonies.

"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" is probably the most straight-ahead pop-rock song, an infectious track that would do Tom Petty proud.  ("Life Floats By" is an even harder rocking tune, and another one that seems to channel some Petty.)  Some of the more unadorned ballads shout back to their twangier days, like "A Break In The Clouds," calling attention to the lovely backing vocals of keyboardist Karen Grotberg.

While the album as a whole stands up well as a consistent work, ideal for sunny Sunday afternoon listening, the standout pop tracks also work great as mixtape contributions, terrific singles that highlight the band's comfort with a killer hook.

Here's an audio rip of "What Led Me To This Town" (damn, those harmonies!):
 Here's a live take on "Smile":
...and from the same show, here's "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me":