Mark Olson "Good-Bye Lizelle"

Wednesday, 01 October 2014
Ian Fildes

Mark Olson "Good-bye Lizelle"

Glitterhouse Records, 2014

  • Former Jayhawk legend finds love and his muse in the colder climes of Europe

Mark Olson’s somewhat flakey and unfathomable relationship with the music industry earns a new chapter in this intriguing new solo album. He obviously helped to spearhead the nascent Americana music movement in the 1990s via one of the genre’s most consistently adored and influential touchstones, The Jawhawks. Then he suddenly left, then he came back, then he left again. The band obviously continued to make more great music, but then lacked one of its core ingredients in Olson’s unique harmony and songwriting.

After a jubilantly successful world tour in support of a reunited Jayhawks album just a few short years ago, he has decided to quit and go solo once again. ‘Good-night Lizelle’, from the front cover on down, is the celebration of the artistic coupling he has found with his new partner, Norwegian artist Ingunn Ringvold; in fact it seems a little mean that this isn't credited as a duo album, as Ringvold co-wrote, played and sings on pretty much everything here as much as Olson does, and a great creative partnership it seems to be. Ringvold plays a very significant Emmy to Olson’s Gram to really wonderful effect on the ballads that make up the core of the record such as ‘Cherry Thieves’, which sounds like it should be an Everly Brothers classic, also rootsy tunes like ’All These Games’ and ‘Heaven’s Shelter’, which are rich in harmony and are totally, if raggedly, beautiful. Always perfectly crafted as we’ve come to expect.

The album begins with stabs of harpsichord chords, and a skittering melody which is equally unpredictable and melodically thrilling. The oddest thing on the record is ‘Running Circles’, which is all middle-eastern instrumentation and percussion, with a prayer to “shelter us from harm, shelter our family”. It’s certainly not what you would expect from him, but repeated listens strengthen its purpose. His recent comments that this album has been influenced by world music percussion are credible, but limited to only a couple of the experimental tracks that front the album. Among the numerous moods, ‘Poison Oleander’ is the one and only ‘rock’ song we get here. A chugging groove of a tune, which owes a lot to Ringvold’s counterpoint to Olson’s melody, and threatens to lead in no uncertain terms.

Olson is an artist who has always opened his mind to the possibilities and influence of travel, and he used his portable recording system to make the recordings for this record, so it was recorded in various apartments around the expanses of Europe, outside in parks, and in various cabins and available spaces, with augmentations made later in studios. It is a portrait of an artist reveling in the potential of not just his happy new relationship, but the ancient and the new worlds of music; the traditional and the familiar. It’s hard to credit this as a solo Mark Olson album, as Ringvold makes such a very significant contribution to this album, but a significant, bold and beautiful record it is nonetheless.

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