Despite having officially left The Jayhawks in 1995, it is his role as founder and co-writer with the Americana band that Mark Olson is still best-known and revered for. Since then, there have been smatterings of solo work and output with The Creekdippers amongst others. It’s a solo offering from his 2014 album ‘Goodbye Lizelle’, which opens proceedings at Belfast’s Real Music Club in The Errigle Inn. By the end of ‘Heaven’s Shelter’ we’re growing accustomed to this sound; a new direction for Olson but music itself that’s timeless and sprawling in its boundaries both in genre and geographical.
Mark Olson could never be considered a one-trick pony by any stretch of the imagination. ‘Blue’ takes us straight back to straight up mid-nineties Americana with The Jayhawks although the musical pairing of Olson and partner Ingunn Ringvold introduce us the Farfisa, lending an earthy 60s tone. We’re told we’re being eased into some sixties music and no word of a lie, those keys conjure up images of Strawberry Fields with the semi spoken musings at times echo Dylan or Lou Reed. There’s a heavy influence of the early solo work of George Harrison with tracks full of Eastern promise betraying their origins in the Mojave Desert.
‘Flowering Trees’ is the first of The Creekdippers material on offer. Ringvold introduces us to the Armenian qanon, a beautiful seventy-six stringed instrument, carved from cherry wood and adding to this odd collision of hippy stoner and old roots sounds. ‘Many Coloured Kite’ proves an upbeat end to the first half of the show before a short interval permits the audience to collective wonder where we’ve just been and having taken in influences as far flung as Africa, Eastern Europe and the old wild west, just where we might be headed.
With Olson back on guitar and Ringvold beating a djembe drum, the second half is all the more conventional if still a melding of Ravi Shankar and Hank Williams. ‘Walking Through Nevada’, ‘Long Distance Runner’ and ‘All These Games are beautiful in their simplicity with dual vocals complimenting each other. Ringvold’s harmonies lifting choruses beyond standard singer songwriter fayre and dynamic instrumentation in some ways carrying the band. Olson’s playing by contrast is at times a little haphazard and unpredictable.
‘Over My Shoulder’ marks a return to The Jayhawks’ material and gets the warmest reception of the evening and perhaps spurred on by the hearty applause, Mark Olson opens up a little more engaging in some chat with the crowd before further Jayhawks tracks in ‘Clouds’ and a stirring rendition of ‘Cherry Thieves’ – beautifully simple, straight-up acoustic guitar and an easy highlight from a show that’s been adventurous, brave and bewildering in equal measures.
As a couple Ingunn Ringvold and Mark Olson are the perfect counterfoils to each other. Maybe born at the wrong time, certainly playing music of a bygone era and far away land, they work together. The output on ‘Goodbye Lizelle’ is difficult to pigeonhole and impossible to wholly dislike. It’s the straight played Jayhawks tunes that leave the crowd wanting more, however and with the vaguely religious imagery conjured in ‘Morning Dove’ we’re perhaps reminded that while the devil holds all the best tunes, sometimes the good Lord deigns to give people the talent to take them to heavenly and hellish places all at once.