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*** MARK OLSON & THE ORIGINAL HARMONY RIDGE CREEKDIPPERS "My Own Jo Ellen" HighTone

October 15, 2000|STEVE APPLEFORD

Mark Olson faded into the wilderness a few years back. As a founding member of the Jayhawks, Olson was a hero of the alt-country movement, but after his band became weighted by great expectations and commercial disappointment, he quit, retreating to the Joshua Tree cabin he shares with his wife, singer-songwriter Victoria Williams. His subsequent solo work was limited to home recordings sold through his Web site.

His first widely available release since the Jayhawks (in stores Tuesday) is a frequently disarming return to soulful, rough-hewn rock. While recent Jayhawks albums have explored a sophisticated pop sound, Olson reaches back to his roots here, arriving at a country-rock blend often reminiscent of Neil Young's "Comes a Time" album.

Recorded in Olson and Williams' home studio with a variety of guest players, the album offers 38 minutes of countrified soul, from the romance and chunky guitar of "Rainbow of Your Heart" to the R&B-powered horns of "Letter From Africa."

While Olson's high, reedy voice is the central ingredient here, the backing vocals of Williams are just as crucial, like Emmylou Harris harmonizing for Gram Parsons. Together, they sing songs of small pleasures and spirituality with the casual energy of old-school folk-rockers. Quiet, hopeful and sweet. Olson will open for Williams at the El Rey Theatre on Nov. 2.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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