Mark Olson: The Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY 8/30/07

As the bartender at The Bowery Ballroom told me on Thursday night, you really can’t go wrong with a guy from Minnesota. And as it just so happened, Minneapolis’ Mark Olson and his cross-cultural band took to the stage at The Bowery Ballroom with a fresh and energetic half-step that was exciting and enjoyable. Olson has spent the last two years enduring the highs and lows of life: the sadness of a divorce, the healing power of music – all captured on the former Jayhawk’s first official solo release, The Salvation Blues.

The evening started with a screening of the Ray Foley documentary on The Salvation Blues, which was filmed in New York City and Brooklyn last spring when Olson had taken residency at Mo Pitkin’s in the Lower East Side, giving a series of performances that were filled with the great storyteller’s journeys. After going through a painful divorce from singer/songwriter Victoria Williams – which ushered Olson into a long depression – to see this innovator come full-circle was inspiring.

Running through choice cuts from The Salvation Blues like “Poor Michael’s Boat,” (the unreleased Jayhawks track seeing first-light with the release of the album) and “The National Express,” Olson and company gave a performance that was rooted in the Olson tradition: well-crafted stories told over an acoustic backdrop that was lively as it was tender. Label mates The Last Town Chorus opened the show.

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