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Jayhawks are ready to fly again

Alt-country band visiting Philly on mini-reunion tour.

Since Mark Olson left the Jayhawks in 1995, something has happened that he didn't exactly foresee.

"I worked really hard in the band for a decade or more, and we were doing a lot of warm-up tours," Olson said from Minneapolis, where the Jayhawks rehearsed for a mini-reunion headlining tour that will bring them to Philadelphia on Saturday. "Now it seems the stature of the band has grown quite a lot over the years. The material's lasted, and there's probably more people interested in us now than when I was in the band. So I want to be a part of it."

Interest in the alt-country/Americana band also has been stoked by recent reissues and recordings. In 2009 came a two-disc, career-spanning anthology, Music From the North Country, as well as Ready for the Flood, a new collaboration between Olson and Gary Louris, the Jayhawks' other front man and songwriter. Last year saw the release of the band's ultra-rare 1986 debut, known as The Bunkhouse Record.

Just this week came the two biggies: reissues of the albums on which the Jayhawks' lofty reputation largely rests - 1992's Hollywood Town Hall and 1995's Tomorrow the Green Grass, both with bonus material. (The latter has a second disc of 18 Olson-Louris duo performances known as The Mystery Demos.)

This reunion tour features the lineup of the band that recorded those two albums: Olson and Louris on guitar and vocals, Marc Pearlman on bass, Karen Grotberg on keyboards, and Tim O'Reagan on drums.

The Jayhawks went on to record three albums after Olson left, going on hiatus in 2004. The 49-year-old Olson admits that the decision to leave the band ("I was burnt") probably would have been harder "if we were as popular as we are now."

Part of the problem in trying to break through back then was that the Jayhawks were, as Olson puts it, "a little out of time."

"We always had a little bit of an outsider thing, because when we recorded those two albums in California, it was definitely a grunge era," he says. And while the Jayhawks were hailed for their melding of country and rock and were held up as leaders of the nascent alt-country movement, the band really had just one goal: "We saw ourselves as trying to write songs that would last. We'd listen to Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and those other groups, and we wanted to write songs that were like that."

He and Louris are still trying. They've recorded a new Jayhawks album with the classic lineup that's now on tour, and it's due out later this year.

"We're trying to seize the moment."