First Listen: The Jayhawks’ Mockingbird Time
Sometime before the alarm went off on Saturday morning at 3:30, I slipped out of bed, put on a pair of black jeans and a green flannel shirt, and went downstairs to brew a pot of coffee. When it was finished I poured it into the steel thermos that I used to take with me when I worked on a charter boat off the Seal Beach pier a few years ago, hauling tourists to catch bass and bonita. Quietly I went outside where I tossed it on the passenger seat of my old red Audi as I slid in and after a moment of thought, I eased the emergency brake off. The car rolled down the driveway into the street where I finally turned the key, started the engine and gave it some gas. I headed toward the sun that had yet to rise, out past Cabazon where they sell those date shakes and the home of the big plastic dinosaurs that sleep in the darkness, sipping the hot black liquid and rubbing my face while wishing I’d shaved. Pulled off the 10 to 86S toward Thermal and the speck of an airstrip, where I knew a man with a grey beard in a pair of worn overalls would be waiting for me and I was sure he’d smell of nicotine and gasoline. And he did.
He should be named Buck or Whitey but it’s Charlie Santorini, a Vietnam vet who took three decades to get clean and sober, another ten to remember how to fly and to save his money for a beat up old Piper. I never asked how he made a living but I knew he kept busy being so close to the border, and he was a man of his word who only spoke when he was spoken to. I had called him a few days earlier booking him to fly me out to Utah this morning, telling him we’d meet at six and all he needed to do was to take me the Dammeron Valley, let me meet a man and pick up a package, and bring me back. Easy money. Nine hundred plus whatever he burned in fuel and we’d be back for lunch if all went well. And it didn’t.
Shouldn’t be this hard to pick up an advance copy of the new Jayhawks album, but the person who I was dealing with was a paranoid long haired hippie freak leftover from the sixties Free Speech days in Berkeley, living now in an old Airstream trailer in the desert with a couple of inked and pierced grandkids of his. He’d called me and asked if I was interested in getting my hands on a vinyl test pressing he got from a woman named Rita who lived in SE Minneapolis and sometimes slept with a man whose brother was a cop and had been hired by the owner of a recording studio to provide security at his daughter’s wedding a few weeks ago. When the guy failed to pay him what he was owed, the cop took a couple boxes off one of the shelves near the back door and there were mostly some dusty old Soul Asylum and Replacements’ outtakes but stuck in there was also a plain white twelve by twelve sleeve with “Jayhawks/2011” written with a black Sharpie on the front. And so we made a deal.
When Charlie put the Piper down I saw the guy leaning against an old Pontiac Catalina, holding the package in one hand and a rifle in the other. I hopped out before the plane stopped and as Charlie went to fill up the tank, I walked over to make the exchange. Three hundred bucks for a taste of the Jayhawks, and not even the deluxe version with extra tracks and stuff. An album that won’t be out until September and it seems too long to have waited for this one.
“Hey Easy” he said. “Been a few years. You’re looking good.”
“You too” I lied.
“That Charlie who flew you in?”
“Thought so. Well listen, we got a slight change of plan.”
“Damn bloggers crawling out of the woodwork for this shit. Price is up.”
“We got a deal.”
“Not anymore. It’s five hundred now.”
“We go a long way back, man. Too long for this.”
“Yeah, I know.”
The old man thought I was reaching for my wallet but my hand moved fast under the back of my shirt and I pulled out a .357. Without a word I shot him between the eyes and he fell over the hood of the car before dropping to the ground. I shook my head as I picked up the white album cover and walked back to the Piper. This new music industry thing was getting wild and crazy. Damn bloggers. Everybody wants to be the first.
By dinner I was back home and listening to Mockingbird Time and wondering why every song reminded me of something else. This is a derivative recording methinks, one that starts with the Count Five’s “Psychotic Reaction”, goes through the biker soundtracks from Davie Allen and the Arrows and although someone has already written that it has Beach Boy harmonies, I hear more Don and Phil. There’s so much British sixties mixed into it that the band must have been streaming The TAMI Show film on Netflix during the recording sessions.
I’m gonna just listen now, scribble whatever comes up. No reviews today, just scraps.
But I’ll leave you with this…being the first was certainly worth that man’s life.
Hide Your Colors: Reminds me of mid-late sixties English rock…like The Move. Or maybe even a taste of the later-Jeff Lynne stuff, like Electric Light Orchestra.
Closer To Your Side: Sounds right off like the old Jaybirds. The piano is mixed up front with the vocals…a song like The Left Banke used to put out. And there is an instrumental break for about thirty seconds that’s could be out of “Eight Miles High”.
Tiny Arrows: There’s more than just this one on this album that are Buffalo Springfield-ized, but this is the I think is closest to the Furay-Stills-Young harmonic tri-axis. Nice pedal steel swooshing sounds.
She Walks In So Many Ways: Could fit on any of the early albums. Sounds remarkably like…the Jayhawks.
High Water Blues: This sounds nothing like the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park”, but it makes me remember what a great song that was. I usually veer left from anything contemporary with “blues” in the title, but this is much more Who than John Lee Hooker. Early stuff….at 2:30 I swear they’re gonna break into “Pinball Wizard” but the 12 string takes me back to the Byrds again. Wait…here comes Todd and the Nazz.
Mockingbird Time: The title track…a slow song that at first gives me the original pre-Dave Mason Traffic lineup vibe, but also a little Al Kooper thrown in because of the keyboard thing.
Stand Out In The Rain: There’s that 12 string sound and pedal steel mix again. Soaring harmonies and interesting chord changes. Very tight. There it is…the Airplane sound from Crown of Creation. No Grace…but Paul and Marty.
Cinnamon Love: Harmonica at the start and in less than a minute they do a strange left-right channel separate vocal chorus before going back into the Pooneil-style riff leftover from the previous song. Love the piano and guitar work and when they get back to the chorus its goosebumps time.
Guilder Annie: We’re back in the UK….Fairport Convention Full House-era until that pedal steel slides back in and it calls to me for a moment of when Garcia was with the Riders on a good night. Another two-part vocal thing that leads into what must be backward tracking guitar work.
Black-Eyed Susan: I’m sitting in the Tower Theater watching the Dead do Blues for Allah or maybe it’s Terrapin Station, but Neil Young is sitting in for Weir tonight. Violin and organ…a taste of Procul Harem for maybe ten seconds.
Pouring Rain at Dawn: Simon and that other guy with the frizzy hair…Roy Hallee has got to be sitting behind the boards and producing this one. A folk song from maybe the album with all the spices in the name.
Hey Mr. Man: Funny that it rhymes with “Hey Carrie Anne” cause I would have guessed the Hollies anyway.
One more thing…find their website and download the show they did in Minneapolis last year. No charge. A great gift.