New Orleans Bound is the sophomore album of American musician Little Diamonds, the folk musician alter-ego of self-taught musician Luke LeBlanc. Already a celebrated musician, the young artist has been creating since he was only 11 or 12 years old, and comes through on his newest release with some very restrained and classic-sounding folk that doesn’t shy away from the old-school country flavor that pervades every song.
Little Diamonds begins this album in a very low-key way with “I Don’t Know About You” and “Never Met You At All,” a one-two punch of stripped-back Southern folk that establishes the overall sonic palette of the album to follow: acoustic guitar, accompanied by a few old-school country instruments (generally banjo, harmonica and violin). The listener is also introduced to LeBlanc’s lyric style, which is generally colored by well-worn metaphors (“just like the leaves always change”), sung very cleanly with country twang, charisma and confidence. The production is practically immaculate for this style of music, but Little Diamonds’ charm mostly comes in the earnestness of his delivery, as well as some basic, yet perfect for his style, guitar-playing. I personally love the bursts of harmonica in songs like “Never Met You At All,” and especially in the both fun and personal “Duluth Grandma,” which maybe doesn’t need its spoken-word intro, but uses it to create a live performance vibe. My favorite track of the entire album is “Lord, Come Down,” which is similarly simple, yet beautiful.
On the other end of the musical spectrum (at least within this album), are songs like the sardonic “12-12-12” and the closer, the titular “New Orleans Bound.” On these tracks, LeBlanc indulges in a more full sound, introducing piano and a lap steel guitar, which dominates both songs. The dominance of studio musician Johnny Wall’s lap steel on these two songs brings The Beatles’ “For You Blue” to my mind, of all things. “12-12-12” is lyrically in the same vein as songs like “Bad Moon Rising” and “The Man Comes Around,” painting several portraits of people waiting for the world to end, a preacher who proclaims that the end is nigh, a young girl who is abandoned by her parents and seeks comfort in the narrator, and a mayor dejectedly buying rounds for all the patrons in a run-down bar.
These scenes are set to a backdrop of relaxed, even up-beat country music. I also feel it’s worth pointing out that the first ten seconds reminded me a lot of the Dylan classic “Like a Rolling Stone,” which makes plenty of sense considering that the soon-to-be Nobel Prize-winning musician sits firmly rooted in LeBlanc’s decision to write music at all.
Overall, the production is great, the instrumentation and lyrics are generally serviceable, but Luke LeBlanc’s charm is what carries it all. I would love to hear him sing more passionately instead of such a standard country croon, because that may be what carries him over the line into being a seriously interesting artist. Little Diamonds is no Dylan or Van Ronk, but his work has shades of his contemporary Jake Bugg (who happens to sing very passionately); all he needs is to take that next step.
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