Jayhawks Credit: Sam Erickson

In recent years Jayhawks front man Gary Louris has found increasing success writing songs for other artists, both on his own and with a slew of collaborators. In 2006 he composed four tunes with members of the Dixie Chicks for their album Taking the Long Way Home, and he’s since penned songs for that group’s lead singer, Natalie Maines, as well as for country and folk performers such as Carrie Rodriguez and Ari Hest. In fact, most of the material on the new Jayhawks album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels (Legacy/Sony), was originally made for others, but with Louris’s unmistakable, sweetly soulful voice and knack for indelible melodies, most of the tracks sound like they were waiting around for the Jayhawks to tackle them. The band offers a comfort zone tailor-made for his talents, but this time he shares the spotlight with keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan, who each sing a pair of his songs. These were written over the course of a decade, and their lyrics reflect a mixture of resignation and support. “Come Cryin’ to Me” and “Carry You to Safety” both express encouragement and help for friends struggling to soldier on, though the latter (one of two songs written specifically for this album) contains some rather hackneyed phrases, such as “I was a seagull wandering the lonely beaches / Now I am an eagle soaring to your upper reaches,” which Louris sings in the wake of an annoying Jayhawks-style millennial whoop. On the other hand, “Everybody Knows” proves more effective in confessing that the narrator knows he’s fooling no one in his flailing attempts to change himself: “Stepping out, everyone can see my face / All the things I can’t erase in my life.”   v