Little Diamonds – New Orleans Bound
Following his 2010 debut 1st Rail, New Orleans Bound is just the right sophomore album Little Diamonds needed to write and record. It solidifies the first album’s promise while showing clear advancement and refinement. The lack of either one might have proven to be an early death knell for what, at its greatest points, promises to be a truly transformative and influential talent blossoming in the Americana genre. Little Diamonds, the stage name for Luke Leblanc, found his artistic muse first fired as a young man by exposure to Bob Dylan’s work, but his loves soon stretched out much wider. He is a multi-instrumentalist who seemingly dispatches lyrics and melodies alike with a fecund industry that few possess. Even fewer possess the needed talent to maintain a level of consistency with such productivity. His second album New Orleans Bound is a twelve song effort that touches base with a host of styles in American traditional music and Little Diamonds acquits himself well in every role he assumes.
“I Don’t Know About You” and “Never Met You At All” are two of a pair in certain respects and find Diamonds presenting himself as a straight forward singer/songwriter in the mode of Dylan or John Prine. Things are kept decidedly quiet and low-fi focusing on acoustic guitars and other lightly amplified string instruments, but Little Diamonds isn’t completely averse to working with a band. “12-12-12” is where listeners get their first unfettered glimpse of Little Diamonds as a songwriter. There are influences exerting their hold over this performance, sure, but they never announce themselves, even mildly, as they do on other tracks. He delivers the song with enough off-handed charm too that its quirky subject matter and unique point of view are all the more compelling to hear. “Lord, Come Down” has a lot of understated desperation in its lyrics that’s reflected in the lonely harmonica lines and pensive guitar as well. This isn’t gospel influenced, per se, but there’s no question that it has more spiritual matters on the mind than the previous tracks. Little Diamonds gives it a muted, but delicately handled vocal and spends a great deal of time focusing on getting his phrasing just right.
“Duluth Grandma” has some storytelling flair that Diamonds hasn’t shared with the listeners, except perhaps in vignette form, until this point. His ill-advised spoken word introduction gives the recording a strained, unnatural feel at first, but the performance redeems that once it begins. This song is, also, an excellent example of the artistic control Diamonds exercises over his material. Nothing runs even a second too long and “Duluth Grandma” is no exception. “Mortified” will impress thanks to its exquisite sensitivity, if nothing else. The threadbare but intensely beautiful acoustic guitar matches Diamonds’ own crystalline singing. This is a song that sounds in danger of disintegrating at any moment, but it’s never chaotic or out of control. Diamonds finishes the album off with its title cut, easily the most musically ambitious number on the album. The fully rounded musical arrangement utilizes a number of different instruments and blends them together despite their differences in traditional use. Albums like this that reaffirm tradition while breaking the mold in successful and perceptible ways are rare indeed. Talents like Little Diamonds and albums like New Orleans Bound are capable of convincing longtime devotees of this music that future generations will carry it on in ways that always remain true to the original creative spirit and truth of its experience.
9 out of 10 stars