Through his two-decade stint as singer, guitarist and principal songwriter of The Jayhawks and as a member of alt-supergroup Golden Smog, Gary Louris has built a deeply compelling body of music whose artistry and integrity has earned him a loyal audience and the respect of critics and his peers. With his solo debut, Vagabonds, Louris steps out to deliver some of his most evocative and personal music yet with the aid of Black Crowes frontman and longtime fan, Chris Robinson, who co-produced the album s organically soulful performances. Louris trademark introspection and uplift is reflected on the standout True Blue, which offers a compelling blend of acoustic and electric textures. The title track acts as the musical and conceptual centerpiece of the record, with bittersweet, vivid imagery and a surging vocal chorus featuring Robinson, Susanna Hoffs and Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley. Natural, resonating collaborations such as these are at the heart of Vagabonds.
Gary Louris has shown pop-star eager earmarks since 1989, when his endearing "Baltimore Sun" cracked the honky-tonk playlist that was the Jayhawks sophomore record, Blue Earth
. While Louris dipped his toe in a pop direction after Jayhawks co-founder Mark Olson departed in 1995, he never took the full plunge until now, with his first solo effort. Chiming with guitars and choruses and soaring melodies straight out of 1975, Vagabonds
rightfully pens the Minneapolis musician inside a small stable of Americas greatest songwriters--and singers--adding three or four compositions to his career-best list. The 10-song record (produced by Chris Robinson, late of the Black Crowes) polishes the wide-ranging Louris palette with the simplest of instrumentation, including organ and banjo, ethereal pedal steel playing from Josh Grange, and a backing chorale led by Susannah Hoffs and Jenny Lewis. Louris's saccharine falsetto has never sounded better, whether its offering Paul Simon-like imagery ("To Die A Happy Man"), channeling John Lennon ("Black Grass") and Nick Drake ("Meandering"), or preaching with the Laurel Canyon choir ("I Wanna Get High"). Jayhawks followers will find comfort in "True Blue"--missing only Olsons co-vocals--and "D.C. Blues," in which Louris borrows the traditional country line, "Hand me down my walking cane," before declaring, "Its my game to win / Its my game to lose." My money is on the former. --Scott Holter