It’s rare when bands can exult in renewed musical vigor three-and-a-half decades into an accomplished career, but with XOXO the Jayhawks once again reaffirm their roots rock majesty. The veteran quartet expand on their core strengths: stellar songwriting, soaring vocal harmonies, and collaborative spirit. And this time the Jayhawks embrace the distinct talents of all four members, as leader Gary Louris shares lead vocals and writing credits more than on their previous ten records. With the warm rush of the opening “This Forgotten Town,” a frontier lament that echoes prime Jayhawks’ material, Louris trades verses with stalwart drummer Tim O’Reagan in glowing synergy. O’Reagan’s own “Dogtown Days” races with the postpunk pulse of Guided by Voices, a crunchy gem of distorted guitar and British Invasion-flecked melody. On the piano ballad “Ruby,” one of several contributions by Karen Grotberg, the dusky voice of the keyboardist and singer evokes the plaintive depths of estranged love. The album’s sonic luster and lush arrangements shine in highlights like “Illuminate,” a dreamy descant of fragile elegance where the group shares falsetto harmonies. Still underrated after all these years, the Jayhawks are one of America’s quintessential bands.
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