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Would it be heresy to say that Mark Olson’s leaving the Jayhawks is no big deal? A lot of people are taking his split with ex-co-frontman Gary Louris pretty hard, but let me summarize my feelings by saying that I like Son Volt more than I liked Uncle Tupelo. Eventually, most bands with two leaders force their fans to choose (cf. also Hart/Mould), and while Olson and Louris were quite similar in both sensibility and voice, I preferred Louris’ tougher, more rock-oriented songs to Olson’s more plaintive, countryish ones, and Louris’ Neil Young-influenced guitar playing gave the band an identifiable sound beyond its leaders’ harmonizing. Unsurprisingly, Sound of Lies is much less country than past Jayhawks efforts; Louris’ full-bodied guitar sound has evolved into a style that’s as much glam as anything (one solo invoking Brian May), particularly on the opening series of midtempo dirges, which beg to be interpreted as responding to the band’s personnel crisis, featuring as they do refrains such as “Am I living in your dream?” and “It was just the blind leading the blind.” Also unsurprisingly, the material runs a bit thin toward the end, especially “Dying on the Vine,” which follows the country-glam fusion to its logical conclusion by morphing into an unmistakable but wan Big Star imitation. (What is it about Minneapolis bands and Big Star? First Paul Westerberg wrote the Replacements’ paean “Alex Chilton,” and now the Jayhawks are not only paying Chilton’s band the sincerest form of flattery, but Louris has penned a sprightly sing-along about fame that is not ostensibly about the Memphean alternavatars, but is in fact titled “Big Star.”) Sound of Lies may not be quite as rich as Hollywood Town Hall or Tomorrow the Green Grass, but it is more cohesive; the Jayhawks should probably have retired their name upon Olson’s departure, but Louris’ group has a future regardless of moniker.

—James Lochart