Maybe the recent spate of Jayhawks reunions/reissues had an effect, but Mark Olson is rocking again. The Minneapolitan Californian's first solo album, 2007's The Salvation Blues (subtitled, no kidding, A two-year journey through the heart of loss and redemption, in words and music), was at heart a depressed country album, despite avowed hopefulness and humanism, conceived largely in Europe as Olson got over a breakup with Victoria Williams—his partner in the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers.
Many Colored Kite instantly feels more pop, its default guitar style Byrdsian curlicue rather than twang, with indie-folk diva Jolie Holland harmonizing on the cheekily corny "Little Bird of Freedom" amid drums and jangle. Olson sounds less like he's trying to convince himself that the world is good and salvageable and more like he's sharing the news. Which makes the wobbling plainness of his singing—the lower of two reeds from his Jayhawks days—more disarming as he layers strings and backup vocals (mostly Norwegian partner Ingunn Ringvold) into a lush Western soft rock Blitzen Trapper would back.
All you could ask for, really, is tunes as memorable as his presence. Songs such as the spiritual-environmentalist "Kingsnake," and the road story "Wind and Rain" are so prettified, they're in soft-focus: It takes Olson to humanize them, his voice giving each track a ticker. Which might be why the strongest performance here is the absurdly awed-by-love "Morning Dove"—solo acoustic after all.
MARK OLSON performs as part of the "Quiet, Please" series on SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, at the VARSITY THEATER; 612.604.0222
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.