“Mockingbird Time” — the latest Rounder release from the recently reunited Minneapolis outfit The Jayhawks — chimes with Byrds-jangly 1970s optimism in great new alt-country tracks such as “Hide Your Colors,” “Closer to Your Side” and “She Walks in So Many Ways.”
It’s so seamless, in fact, that you’d never guess founding members Mark Olson and Gary Louris hadn’t recorded together as The Jayhawks since 1995’s “Tomorrow the Green Grass.”
But Louris managed to wrangle the now-Oslo-based Olson — plus most of their original lineup — for this comeback, and produce it as well.
His tenacity sprang from the strangest source: crossword puzzles.
“Ultimately, crosswords have kept me sane,” says Louris, who appears with his group at the Fillmore this week. He is obsessed with them, and each week he eagerly awaits the challenging toughie in the Sunday New York Times, which he solves in ballpoint pen.
“So I might not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m very persevering. I just don’t give up. And whether it’s a crossword or a song, if you put it down and pick it up again the next day, something that seemed impossible becomes very easy, and you can solve the problem.”
Louris carries crossword books everywhere he goes.
“I’m never without one,” he says. “It’s hard for me personally to just sit around at soundcheck or in a studio, so crosswords are the best way for me to just Zen out and not think about anything that’s going on in the world. And the more you do it, the better you get, and you learn all the tricks.” For songwriting purposes, he adds, “It certainly hasn’t hurt my vocabulary any, and I’ve even glanced at crosswords to steal a few ideas.”
Word soon spread. While attending a soundtrack-composing workshop in Park City, Utah, the guitarist met director Patrick Creadon, who was filming “Wordplay,” a documentary on crossword mastermind Will Shortz.
A huge Jayhawks fan, Creadon invited Louris to pen the movie’s theme song, “Every Word,” and attend its gala Sundance premiere. “And I actually met Will Shortz there, and I felt like I was meeting John Lennon, I was so nervous,” he says.
After Olson’s departure in 1995, Louris retired his Jayhawks in 2005. But a wave of recent catalog reissues made regrouping possible, almost inevitable.
“In Minneapolis, we were the only ones doing this kind of music when we started — it was all The Replacements and Husker Du,” says the never-say-die Louris. “So we’ve always been out of step, out of place. But somehow, it’s worked in our favor, longevity-wise.”
IF YOU GO
Where: The Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Contact: (415) 346-6000, www.livenation.com