Aspiring songsmiths Mark Olson and Victoria Williams first met in 1984. When they hooked up again, a little over 10 years later, things were different. Olson had formed Minneapolis’trailblazing alt. countryites The Jayhawks, releasing at least two genre gems in Hollywood Town Hall (1992) and Tomorrow The Green Grass (’95). But the marathon tours and studio sessions had blunted his edge, driven him spare. In ’95, he upped and quit. Meanwhile, Williams had enjoyed a low-key career as an idiosyncratic LA singer-songwriter. Reunited with Olson (first recording as a duo on “When We Sing Together”, from her 1994 album Loose), she was now living with multiple sclerosis. They married, headed out to the Joshua Tree desert in California and set up camp on an earthquake faultline.
These recordings are the back-to-nature cleansing of city palates. Self-sufficient, self-effacing music shaped by desert winds and moonlit nights, recorded in their home cabin with Mike “Razz”Russell. There’s a rustic, awkward grace about these songs, oozing joy like a happy rupture in a riverbed. The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers from 1997 (six tracks from which appear here) was Olson revelling in new-found freedom (“Flowering Trees”, “Run With The Ponies”), nibbling at acoustic guitar and harmonica, with Williams counterpointing his melancholic delivery with high tremble and prickly banjo. Russell adds mandolin and some truly wonderful, understated violin.
By ’98’s Pacific Coast Rambler, their DIY folk was augmented by visiting Black Crowes guitarist Marc Ford, while follow-up Zola And The Tulip Tree?their best?featured John (Calexico) Convertino and Eric (Son Volt) Heywood. Olson’s squelchy guitar on the title track is an irresistible highlight. Of the others, Pacific Coast Rambler outtake “Louisiana Black Dog Moses” (re-recorded for last year’s December’s Child?Olson reuniting for the first time with founder Jayhawk Gary Louris) is swampy cactus-funk par excellence. Odd, homegrown elegance.