Saturday, January 3, 2009

Gary Louris, "Vagabonds" (#3)

(Gary Louris)
Gary Louris

The title track to Gary Louris' first solo record, Vagabonds, is the perfect song for the perfect moment--that evening spot in mid-May, after classes have finished but before the cruel heat of summer has really kicked in. It's the moment of pure possibility, the moment when the world opens itself up to you and waits for you to engage it.

Louris possesses what is likely the best voice in rock and country music--it floats and quivers and somehow carries just the right amount of twang, and then it soars and surprises you with how substantial it is. I could, as the cliche says, listen to him sing the telephone book. Thankfully, he doesn't make me do that and instead writes some of the best songs I've ever heard, for the Jayhawks and Golden Smog, for the Dixie Chicks and Nickel Creek (even though he doesn't sing those), and now for this solo record.

"Vagabonds" has to be in my top 10 Louris songs ever--behind "The Man Who Loved Life" and "Until You Came Along" but just ahead of "I'd Run Away" and "Big Star." The verses are nice, a series of impressionist vignettes that are mostly image and little story. But it's the chorus that hits you over the head: "Carry on, you vagabonds / Everyone's gone away." These are simple words, maybe too simple--but Louris carries them with his voice, carries them into the stratosphere, into something more beautiful than I think I can understand. The choir that backs him up may be too much--I wouldn't mind hearing Louris sing it on his own.

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