Mark Olson

My Own Jo Ellen

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Gram Parsons has been dead for years, but you'll swear he's in the room at times while playing this label debut from Jayhawks cofounder Mark Olson. Olson is headed down the same alt-country road Parsons followed on his two solo albums, and his voice and spirit are reminiscent of Parsons as well. Make no mistake, though: While Parsons is the obvious reference point, the ten wonderful, self-penned songs here are wholly fresh and original, both musically and lyrically. Every cut sounds like an instant classic; and, like the songs of, say, the Band, they seem timeless, as if they've been around for ages. Primary backup comes from Olson's wife, singer/songwriter Victoria Williams, and Mike "Razz" Russell, who mostly plays violin and bass; but a variety of other players also contribute to a sound that's as rich and self-assured as anything on the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It's hard to pick favorites here -- there's not a bad apple in the bunch -- but if pressed, look to the joyous title cut, a lilting tribute to Olson's grandmother; "Ben Johnson's Creek," about a farmer trying to save his land from developers; and "Meeting in Lone Pine," which Olson's publicists say "deals with attempts to cover up the transportation of nuclear waste." (You'd never know that from the cryptic lyrics, but never mind, it's a great song anyway.) One of the very best albums of 2000, and one destined to be played for years to come.

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