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Dark inspiration

Gill Landry finds stories in cities, women and ... cemeteries?

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There's no telling who the real Lawless Soirez was. For Gill Landry, he's a down-on-his-luck traveler who's sharing his story of loves lost and the dark alleys he's wandered. In reality, Lawless Soirez is just the name on a tombstone. Singer/songwriter/storyteller Landry saw the name and wrote a song about him.

"It's a man who's buried in Erath, Louisiana," Landry says of the discovery last year. "I like taking pictures of graveyards, and I like hanging out and playing music in them. I knew I was working on the album, and I just loved his name. I wanted to take on his name, but I just wrote a song about him. They have a picture of him on the grave, but it's a complete fabrication as far as his life goes."

When the song "Lawless Soirez" was complete, Landry liked it so much that he named his debut album, The Ballad of Lawless Soirez. The album's cover may look like a dime-store novel, and the songs could nearly be pieced together like a book, but they're virtually unrelated except for a common flavor of the music.

With a stripped-down, acoustic Americana feeling that's been peppered with New Orleans influence and dark overtones, Landry's debut tells the stories of cities and loves gone by. Half of the tracks were written over the last seven years, and others were written once he started the recording process.

"They're all pretty-much based in reality although they might be a montage of things," Landry says. "For instance, none of the women's-named songs are about women with those names. Some of them might not even be about just one woman, it might be two women that inspire aspects of one song. The faces all blend together. They all tie into my experiences in life."

While the album has a steady New Orleans flavor to it, it's more from the music history than because of recent disasters. "I would never write some patriotic tribute to a disaster-type tune," Landry says. "Though that definitely influenced some of the darkness on the album."

The stories/songs are packaged together by Landry, who designed the album's cover, took the photos and had a hand in just about every aspect of its production. Though if you look at the liner notes, you may notice a different name at times -- Frank Lemon.

"He's my manager," Landry says with a laugh. "I am my own manager. Frank Lemon -- I pulled that name off a wall in New Orleans a long time ago. It was all in fun." Landry started to use the Lemon name during his years with the Syncopators -- a band he started in 1998.

In 2005, Landry got involved with Old Crow Medicine Show, a brief touring gig that led to his solo album being created. Though Landry knew the band from their days playing in the streets of New Orleans, it's a gig he almost didn't get. When the band was looking for a banjo player, Landry offered his services, though he had never played the instrument before.

"I only had played the banjo for two weeks before I played the gig with them at Grand Ole Opry," Landry says with a laugh. "I told them, 'My claw hammer's a little rusty, but I can do the job.' So, I went to the store and I bought a banjo." After a brief lesson by the salesman, Landry spent the next two weeks at his house practicing and playing along to Old Crow music. "It wasn't easy at all," he notes. "I didn't have it by any means when I got there and they could tell, but it was perfect because they could mold me into the banjo player they wanted. As long as you can 50 percent back up your bluff, why not go for it?"

Through his touring with them, he met people at Nettwerk Records who offered him the chance at recording a solo album. While he's only been touring for a few months in support of the new album, he's thinking ahead to the next one. "I already have the next one written," Landry says. "I have to prove myself a bit more and sell some of these records so I can get the opportunity to make another one. I'm not new to playing music, but I'm new to playing solo in towns I've never been to before. It's been a pretty exciting up-and-down roller coaster."

Gill Landry will perform at the Evening Muse at 8 p.m. on May 24. Tickets are $6.

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