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Gary Louris picks up in wake of The Jayhawks

Somerville Theatre, Somerville, Mass., April 1, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Going your own way is not so easy after being intimately tied with a band for so many years. Just ask Mick Jagger how successful is solo career has been sans his Stones.

The Jayhawks are no longer since the Minneapolis band ended their rootsy run in 2006 (they never officially split). Group mainstay Gary Louris stepped out on his own, releasing his first solo CD last month on Rykodisc.

"Vagabonds" is a solid album, picking up where The Jayhawks left off with a rootsy style and nods to The Beatles. Neil Young was more of a touchstone in concert, adding a bit of denseness to the music.

Louris started with one of the best songs on "Vagabonds," "Omaha Nights," before going into a mix of his and Jayhawks songs. He played "Everybody Knows," a song he wrote with the Dixie Chicks for their "Taking the Long Way" release of 2006. While turning in a decent performance, his vocals are no match for those of Natalie Maines of the Chicks. Louris high vocals aren't necessarily the prettiest. A few times during the 100-minute show, the vocals were on the thin side, but backing help from a few of his backing band, Vetiver, certainly did the trick.

Louris' material stood up well with The Jayhawks tunes, such as "Waiting for the Sun." His guitar process came through time and again with short, twangy runs that punctuated the songs without overwhelming them.

The magic of The Jayhawks did not quite translate into Louris' performance on all fronts. An affable Louris dealt with a far smaller crowd - maybe about 300 people compared, one-third of a house, compared to the much more sizable crowds The Jayhawks received in Boston.

One got the distinct sense that this wasn't the most rehearsed tour either. This was the seventh of only 20 shows. While Vetiver was certainly capable as a back-up band (ok, they did have to restart one song), there was always the sense that Louris was directing things a bit on the fly. He would often nod cues to pedal steel ace (and non-Vetiver) Eric Heyward, who fortunately plays one fine pedal steel as he demonstrated throughout the show.

On the one hand, this was not the tightest group going. On the other, there's something to be said for a loose style.

While not a perfect evening, Louris showed he did not need to use The Jayhawks as a crutch, but rather a stepping off point.

Vetiver (hey guys, naming your group after a type of grass, which is not easy to pronounce, may not have been the smartest thing) was the right accompaniment to Louris in opening the show with a 45-minute set. They tended to mix it up more musically as they went along getting out of the safe zone to good effect. Andy Cabic's vocals were a bit hard to hear at first, but that was ironed out.

In years past, they would have been labeled an alt.-country band with a good chunk of twangy guitar. They could use more personality, but at least the music stood up.