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Omaha or Bust 

by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he dilemma in the name of singer-songwriter Justin Lamoureux's solo project will no doubt sound familiar to musicians plying their trade in the Inland Northwest. The Iowan transplant to Omaha, Neb., had picked up the guitar and was trying to make a name for himself in a region not exactly known for its star power. "The name described my feelings at the time, when I was trying to decide if I was going to stay or go." Thus, "Midwest Dilemma."

Lamoureux decided to stay. And go. After beginning to play coffee shop gigs around Omaha, then regular gigs, then artist-in-residence gigs at local venues, he started to yearn for the road. It began with short jaunts to little surrounding Midwestern towns. Then week-long trips to Minneapolis, Chicago. "Hey, if I can go out for a week, why can't I go out for a whole month?" he wondered. He used up all his vacation time as a Web designer for the Nebraska Medical Center, so he got a job at a transmission shop, with the deal that he'd work for them for four or five weeks, then they'd let him take two or three weeks off to tour. Repeat. But then the tour time started to stretch, while the work time dwindled. Pretty soon, he was a full-time musician.

Speaking from Grand Junction, Colo., Lamoureux recalls his thoughts at the time. "I don't see why I can't go out and continue to play music all the time," he says. "I'm doing it. I love it." On Tuesday, Lamoureux was in Salt Lake City. From there, he planned jumps to Provo, then Logan, Utah. He plays the Shop in Spokane on Sunday. And he doesn't have a day off from his tour schedule until April 21, between Eugene and Napa, Calif. With the exception of a week off in San Diego, he'll play almost every night between now and May 27, when he finishes the tour in Kansas. "I get to start all over each night," he says.

From all the touring, you'd think he'd solved the dilemma, deciding to stay away from Omaha for as long as he possibly could. But Lamoureux says the dilemma's still around; it's just changed. It's no longer a geographical question. "I look forward to going back to Nebraska," he says. "It's where I feel inspired." Indeed, when asked who has influenced his music, he doesn't cite big-name bands, but rather the friends he plays with at home -- "the underdogs who will remain underdogs, who don't know where to start."

But then, he's just as inspired on the road, swapping CDs with each act he performs with. "I listen to those all the time," he says. Leah Siegel from Brooklyn, Brian Wheat from Buffalo. Rocky Votolato from Seattle. "Every city's got one," he says, bringing up Spokane's Mordekye Layman and Robert Dunn. "That's great music, and good things are going to happen [to them]." (Full disclosure: This writer occasionally plays with Robert Dunn and North Country.)

Of course, Lamoureux's still an Omaha artist, and some will draw comparisons between his spare acoustic guitar arrangements and reedy voice and those of fellow Omahan Conner Oberst. Lamoureux says that while he respects Oberst and the stable of Saddle Creek artists (The Faint, Two Gallants, Sorry About Dresden) who have won Omaha national attention in the last several years, he notes that "Saddle Creek is a clique. And if you're not in the clique, there's no chance you're going to get signed [with them]."

The dilemma for Lamoureux now has less to do with Omaha and more to do with the next step in his career. "Now it's a struggle -- can I continue to pursue this? Is it worth the payoff? That's the thing -- you don't [even] know what the payoff is."

Until he figures it out, he'll just keep doing what he's been doing -- packing the car and hitting the pavement: "I'm going to take it as far as I can go."

Midwest Dilemma at the Shop on Sunday, April 9, at 7 pm with Mordekye Layman and Robert Dunn and the North Country. Tickets: $5. Call: 534-1647.
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