Between his work with the Jayhawks and his solo career, Mark Olson has shown the world that he's a fine singer and a gifted songwriter who is not afraid to bare his soul and explore both the concrete and spiritual sides of his life. What Olson hasn't done before is explore world music, and Good-bye Lizelle, his third solo effort, suggests there's a good reason for that: he doesn't seem to have much of a knack for it. Good-bye Lizelle was recorded while Olson and his primary accompanist (and spouse) Ingunn Ringvold traveled around the globe, dashing from America to Norway, the Czech Republic, South Africa, Armenia, and many points in between, as Olson and Ringvold laid down tracks with local musicians en route using Olson's portable recording rig. Since Olson can't help but sound like the good-natured Minnesota boy he is, the globetrotting nature of these recordings doesn't make as much of a difference as one might think, and his melodic sense shines through on most of these 11 songs, except for the fact that Olson seems to have developed a fascination with Indian music. "Say You Are the River" appears to be Olson's attempt to write a raga, and "Lizelle Djan," "Running Circles," "Which World Is Ours?," and "Jesse in an Old World" all reflect the influences of modality and the circular melodic patterns that inform Indian music. While Olson and Ringvold sound sincere in their efforts to bring Indian elements into their compositions, that doesn't make it any less of a poor fit, and if the especially cryptic and obliquely spiritual nature of Olson's lyrics on these tunes was supposed to mesh with his new Eastern influences, the theory does not run parallel with the practice. There are a few fine performances here, most notably the spare and lovely "Cherry Thieves" and "Poison Oleander," which most recalls the Jayhawks with its fuzzy lead guitar and the splendid harmonies between Olson and Ringvold. But most of Good-bye Lizelle plays like Olson is working his way into a new and more diverse musical approach that hasn't quite meshed with his core strengths yet, and following his first two solo works and his one-off reunion with the Jayhawks, Mockingbird Time, this project is a severe disappointment.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming