Of the musicians who rose to prominence in the 1990s during the alternative country scene's 15 minutes of media prominence, the Jayhawks were at once the band that best exemplified what was satisfying about the new country rock scene, and a group that avoided the twangy clichés that became so large a part of what their less gifted peers were doing. The high lonesome melodies and evocative wordplay of Gary Louris and Mark Olson's fine songs suggested a country influence without forcing the particulars into the arrangements (a mandolin here and a fiddle there was enough), and though Louris' guitar work made it clear he'd listened to a few Neil Young albums, the Jayhawks' musical vision made as much room for pure pop and '70s West Coast sounds as rocked-up country. The group's sound became even more eclectic after Olson departed the band in 1996, and over the course of their career, the Jayhawks created a distinctive and powerful body of work that showed clear evolution and fresh thinking on each successive album. In 2008, Louris dropped hints to fans and writers of a "Herculean project" of remastering and expanding the Jayhawks' albums, and Music from the North Country: The Jayhawks Anthology is presumably the first salvo in these efforts, a career-spanning compilation that offers highlights from their five albums for American Recordings as well as one track each from their first two independent efforts. This set sounds and feels like a "Jayhawks Greatest Hits" disc, pulling the best-known tunes and likely fan favorites from each album, but given how consistently strong their music was, this isn't a serious flaw, and the chronological sequence of the album plays to the growth and shifts in the group's approach while mimicking the creative arc of their career, encompassing songs as brilliant as "Martin's Song," "I'd Run Away," "The Man Who Loved Life," "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," and "Save It for a Rainy Day." If you've never had the pleasure of listening to the Jayhawks, this collection is a marvelous place to start, and fans will be reminded of just how much good music this group made, and how well it has stood the test of time.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming