Gary Louis helped refine alt-country over two decades with the Jayhawks; however, since the band’s 2003 release, Rainy Day Music, his time in the recording studio has been spent largely as producer, running the boards for the likes of Chris Robinson, Vetiver and Brightblack Morning Light. Vagabonds marks Louris’ first solo outing, and finds him, in his own words, “stepping back into my own head a little bit more.”
Delicate and thoughtful, Vagabonds’ 10 tracks emanate a golden glow, Louris’ verse encircled by swelling pedal steel and augmented by the Laural Canyon Family Choir, composed of Susanna Hoffs (The Bangles), Johnathan Rice, Jenny Lewis, The Chapin Sisters, Andy Cabic (Vetiver), Farmer Dave (Beachwood Sparks) and Jonathan Wilson. “True Blue” is a case study in sonic mastery, with the harmonies growing from a simple melody, just Louris and acoustic guitar. “To Die a Happy Man” is sparse and playful, while “Black Grass” recalls late-era John Lennon, a gripping falsetto marking the sunshine hook.
It is not simply the songs that make Vagabonds a remarkable album. It is the ease with which they play out, drifting effortlessly, acute and relaxed. Without this album, Louris’ name would live on for his previous work both with the Jayhawks and the myriad of artists he has produced. But with Vagabonds, he has made an indelible mark that is undeniably his own.
Vagabonds is out now on Rykodisc.