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Mark Olson

Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun – 2017 (Glitterhouse (import))

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Mark Olson

Ever been drawn to an album where you cannot make sense of the lyrics, find the instrumentation quirky yet interesting, and despite not really getting everything that's wrapped up in the concept, keep listening to it? This is the case with Mark Olson's "Spokeswoman of the Bright Sun." Of course, Olson, formerly of The Jayhawks, has a reputation for some rather bizarre musical endeavors. Think back to his Original Harmony Creekdippers, for example.

After a three-year hiatus Olson returns with his wife and musical collaborator, Ingunn Ringvold. The couple live in the desert; Joshua Tree, Cal. to be precise. The album was written and recorded in their home, giving it an intimate feel, allowing the lush harmonies to easily flow through. It's a lyrical and poetic exercise accompanied by this unusual array of instruments: acoustic/electric guitar, dulcimer, mellotron, chamberlin, bass and drums with often stunning string arrangements from Ringvold.

This is a relaxed effort that often reaches some hazy, psychedelic moments reminiscent of some '60s bands like Love and The Incredible String Band. You might glean from the album title that lyrics can be, to say it gently, inaccessible. For example, from "Death Valley Soda Pop Cool Down Dream" - 'Hello to the four o'clock family/hello to the one that lives there/burgundy sun shower, where is life?/Death Valley soda pop cool down dream." Seriously, what is going on there?

Ironically, it doesn't matter. The music and vocal harmonies are eminently accessible, floating so gently and melodically, that the album is truly captivating. There's an economy to the songs that seem to flow naturally to the next, almost like a classical piece. The joy that Olson and Ringvold have in making this inventive music shines through brilliantly.