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Smile Cd, Jayhawks
Smile Cd, Jayhawks

In the mid-1980s, this Minneapolis band shared tavern stages with fellow hometown punk bands like the Replacements and Soul Asylum, dishing out a then-unique blend of country-rock that pre-dated "alt country" by a decade. More than 15 years later, their sixth album is also their second without cofounder Mark Olson. Led by Gary Louris, the newfangled Jayhawks play pop music in the truest sense of the word, and Smile is another trademarked batch of their heartrending laments: hooks that you can't get out of your head ("I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"); melodies snatched off of '70s AM radio ("Mr. Wilson"); epic harmonies from the Big Star handbook ("What Led Me to This Town"); and even a modest attempt at Midwestern hip-hop ("Somewhere in Ohio"). Produced by Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd's The Wall), Smile is a tad slicker than 1997's Sound of Lies. But like its predecessor, this record's charm rests in a handful of dazzling ballads ("Better Days," "A Break in the Clouds" and "Broken Harpoon")--polished, yes, but never overbearing.

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