Golden Smog and Jayhawks alum Gary Louris has a knack for crafting heartbreaking yet inspiring pop songs. At his best, on Jayhawks tunes like "Save It for a Rainy Day," "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," and "It's Up to You" — plus all the incredible tracks he wrote with Mark Olson before the latter left the band — he makes you want to cry because the songs are so beautiful. But his solo debut, Vagabonds, is sad without being compelling.
"She Only Calls Me on Sundays" is about a woman who wants him only when "she's had her fill of red wine and cigarettes and prescription pills." The album maintains this dispirited tone and, despite flashes of greatness, never quite gels. One problem is that the stripped-down production, helmed by the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson, robs the songs of Louris's deft and diverse musicality. Only a few of the tunes are immediately memorable, including the title track and "Black Grass," which evokes that oft-overlooked Jayhawks' classic Sound of Lies. And therein lies a clue. Sound of Lies took years to grow on many people, and the carefully crafted feel of Vagabonds suggests that could happen this time too.