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Mark Olson and Gary Louris

The Music Mill, 3720 82nd St.

Monday, Feb. 21, 8:30p.m.

Mark Olson will come right out and say it: He wants to be a Jayhawk again. "Oh, yeah. I make no bones about it," he says. "I've come back. I think they're all adjusting to it. A guy takes off, and then wheels back into town 10 years later, it takes time for people to adjust."

Mark Olson will come right out and say it: He wants to be a Jayhawk again. "Oh, yeah. I make no bones about it," he says. "I've come back. I think they're all adjusting to it. A guy takes off, and then wheels back into town 10 years later, it takes time for people to adjust."

There's still no formal announcement from the Jayhawks' camp, but it's true that Olson is back on the road with his old partner Gary Louris for the first time in a decade. The co-founders of the acclaimed roots-rock band will perform Monday at the Music Mill, on a tour billed as "Mark Olson & Gary Louris: Together Again."

The two formed the Jayhawks in mid-'80s Minneapolis, arising from the land of Prince, the Replacements and Husker Du with a surprisingly convincing Twin Cities take on California country-rock, complete with jangly acoustic guitars, honky-tonk piano and careening, Neil Young-ish electric solos. Guitarists Louris and Olson co-wrote nearly all the material and functioned as twin lead singers with their tightly braided vocal harmonies.

But just as the band made a critical splash and won some airplay with its 1992 major label debut Hollywood Town Hall and 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass, Olson walked away. With his wife, singer-songwriter Victoria Williams, he settled in the desert near Joshua Tree, Calif., and plunged into a rural lifestyle and a deep trove of spare acoustic music, released on seven mostly independent albums over the past seven years.

Louris has soldiered on with an evolving Jayhawks lineup, releasing three albums to various degrees of critical praise and maintaining a modest AAA radio presence. As he admitted in a previous NUVO interview, however, he has never felt adequately rewarded for his 20 years of work. And to many critics and fans, the creative high-water mark remains the mid-'90s material like the soaring Tomorrow ballad "Blue" - in other words, the last material Louris and Olson wrote together.

"It's a bit of a drag, because 'Blue' is the most popular song probably that we've done, but it was written nine years ago," Louris said in 2003. "You don't want to feel like you've peaked, and yet ... it's obvious when you go to a show that that's the one everybody wants to hear."

So why did Olson leave, anyway? Speaking by phone from Wisconsin on the eve of pre-tour rehearsals, he says the problem was all his. The major-label game of living in debt, missing sleep and slogging through opening-act sets had begun to take its toll.

"I was burnt," Olson says. "I was burnt on the warm-up thing, and I'd reached that point where I wasn't looking forward to the various aspects of being in the band, and I was getting sick a lot on the road ... I bought my first house, and for better or for worse, mistake or not, I decided to put everything into the house and getting a new musical direction."

In the years since, Olson has enjoyed his domestic life and his music, continuing to write, tour and gain skill on bass, piano and dulcimer. Still, he expresses nothing but humble goodwill toward Louris for what he hopes is a new opportunity for a higher profile.

"I'm glad he's having me back," Olson says. "Maybe we can bring the courses together now."

The two renewed their friendship a few years ago, collaborating on a soundtrack tune that didn't make the movie but landed on Olson's 2002 album and Louris' live setlist. Gradually they warmed to the idea of playing together again.

"I've been touring a lot, and I think he's been touring a lot, and it was like, 'Hey, why don't we get together and do what we've been doing, which is enjoy playing music,'" Olson explains. "We have this whole history together, so let's just do it. Let's not make a big deal about it."

Indianapolis will be the third stop on a 17-city tour of eastern states in which Olson and Louris trade off on guitar and piano, Olson plays some bass, and his friends Ray Woods and Mike Russell add drums and fiddle, respectively. The repertoire includes music Olson and Louris have made together and apart, including some favorite covers and some unreleased early Jayhawks material that may provide a starting point for future collaboration.

"We had something like 40 or 50 songs going into that Hollywood Town Hall session, and we have a number of them that we actually made a little demo tape with," Olson says. "So they're just sitting there waiting to be recorded."

So far, however, the tour is the only concrete evidence of a reunion, and other individual projects await. Louris is expected in Spain soon to make a new album with the alt-country all-star team Golden Smog. Olson and his band the Creekdippers will spend June and July in Europe, where their strident 2004 album Political Manifest has struck a chord with anti-Bush audiences.

Titles like "Poor GW" and "The End of the Highway, Rumsfeld" don't play too well in Texas, for example, but they've been a hit in old Europe, Olson says.

"We've played over there six months out of the last 18 months, and I'm still getting offers," he says, noting that European fans remain troubled by our controversial president's re-election.

"I'd say that they're still in a state of shock," Olson says. "They're waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Olson also will continue to collaborate in some form with his wife, who is starting work on a new album. Williams' career is periodically interrupted by flare-ups of multiple sclerosis, but lately she has been prevailing in her battle with the chronic nerve disease, Olson says.

"Without knowing it, we might have made a good move, going to the desert, because I guess people with MS need a lot of vitamin D, and you get that out there in the sunshine," he says. "She just keeps carrying on. She's unbelievable, really, her ability to tour, to make the long haul, to go without much sleep, and to rise to the occasion. She's got some courage, there's no doubt about that, and she doesn't complain, ever."


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