Mark Olson's first proper solo album, 2007's The Salvation Blues, was written and recorded in the wake of a powerfully traumatic romantic breakup, and as beautiful as it often was, the pain that inspired it was never far from the surface. Following a collaboration with his former partner in the Jayhawks, Gary Louris (2008's Ready for the Flood), Many Colored Kite finds Olson making music on his own again, and though these songs appear to be the work of a stronger and happier man, this remains a deeply introspective set of songs, with a keenly spiritual undertow running through these meditations on love, nature, and humanity. Beau Raymond produced these recordings, and the sound is simple and uncluttered, dominated by acoustic guitars and Olson's voice, and even when the album gingerly dips its toes into rock & roll, the music maintains a steady hand and a touch that's careful not to lean too hard on the tunes. Olson's vocals remain clear and impassioned, but there's a wary fragility in his voice that sets these performances apart from his early work, and the melodic twists and turns of "Morning Dove," "More Hours," and "Kingsnake" are ambitious and challenging, a clear departure from the sunnier mood of his work with the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers and the lovely Midwestern plains of the Jayhawks. And as Olson emphatically declares "Praise the love, praise the light of the day" in "Morning Dove" or "There's a light that shines, there are dreams untold" in "No Time to Live Without Her," the lyrics carry a palpable subtext that Olson is seeking solace in divine love as well as more earthly comforts. Many Colored Kite is far from a carefree album, but if the backstory of The Salvation Blues was one of heartbreak, this music is about healing, and Olson's journal of emotional recovery is honest, compelling, and dotted with moments of unexpected joy, none more powerful than his evocative recollection of a childhood memory in "Wind and Rain." Not as cohesive as The Salvation Blues, Many Colored Kites is still a worthy and brave album that finds Mark Olson continuing to find new ways of sharing what life has taught him through his music.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming