The Jayhawks' seventh album backs away from their "super-pop" releases like Smile and the underrated Sound of Lies and looks back to their earlier, rootsier sound. The band has whittled itself down again following the departures of keyboardist Jen Gunderman and longtime guitarist Kraig Johnson, leaving behind core songwriter and vocalist Gary Louris, founding member Marc Perlman on bass, and longtime drummer Tim O'Reagan assisted by newcomer Stephen McCarthy on guitar. Produced by Ethan Johns (and overseen by Rick Rubin), Rainy Day Music goes back even further than the band's first albums, channeling the ghosts of the Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Buffalo Springfield, and interpreting their '60s folk jangle and lazy, sunny harmonies through the Jayhawks' own sweetly awkward formula. "Madman," in particular, gives the listener a sense of Déjà Vu, sounding like a long lost CSNY demo, and the chiming Rickenbacker 12-string guitar of the leadoff track, "Stumbling Through the Dark," could've been lifted right from the master tapes of "Mr. Tambourine Man." The first six tracks are all vintage Louris gems -- trembling and honest, with warm melodies and hooks for days. Unfortunately, the album stumbles in the second half with the inclusion of two O' Reagan compositions (which try too hard to evoke John Lennon's world-weary mumble and Bob Dylan's nasal whine), and an unsuccessful stab at heartland gospel on "Come to the River." Although the summertime love song "Angelyne" and the waltzing "Will I See You in Heaven" provide bright spots near the end, the album never fully recovers. This is a real shame, since the whole affair starts so strong, and it seems as though if side B could've been trimmed by about four songs (and 15 minutes), Rainy Day Music would stand alongside their strongest albums. Still, fans who complained that their last two albums were "too poppy" or "not rootsy enough" should be pleased with this direction, and it's certainly an album that gets better with each listen, so it may yet prove to be worth its weight in acoustic gold.
AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson