Thursday, December 29, 2016

Little Diamonds - New Orleans Bound

Little Diamonds - New Orleans Bound 

The sophomore album from a songwriter is usually a proving ground about whether or not they have the staying power to make a career out of this. Little Diamonds’ second release New Orleans Bound not only improves on the high quality of his debut 1st Rail, it moves the goalposts substantially and establishes a whole new bar for success that signals this is an artist committed to realizing the fullness of his artistic potential. This is a professional recording through and through that balances out the relatively narrow range of instrumental voices with the central musical force on the album, Little Diamonds’ own voice. He has come a long way from winning a Bob Dylan impersonation contest and is rapidly evolving into one of the most respected performers and songwriters on the Americana scene. There are twelve songs on this album that testify to a talent deserving of such a reputation. 

There’s a John Prine-esque turn to the album’s first two songs “I Don’t Know About You” and “Never Met You at All”, but it’s never over-exaggerated to the point of outright parody. Diamonds is a multi-instrumentalist, but his work on acoustic guitar is particularly impressive and the musical hinge upon which these dozen songs swing. He has a clearly articulated style and his playing remains steady throughout while adding countless low-key embellishments to give the progressions some added flair. “12-12-12” is much more Little Diamonds’ own confection and owes little to anyone. The light humor has a delicious dark twist, but it isn’t so black as to drag down the listeners’ emotions. Instead, the band arrangement he adopts and the brisk pace they set come together to make for an exceptionally nice performance. His vocal is full of great phrasing that plays up the song’s comedic elements some, but concentrates much more on tailoring the singing as closely as possible to the music.  

“Duluth Grandma” has stronger lyric imagery than any previous song and showcases his skills for creating characters to inhabit his songs. It creates an effect of eavesdropping on a life and being able to observe without having to pay a penalty for what we hear and see. These are immensely human songs and “Duluth Grandma” has even more humanity than most. “Old Man Al” has a similar template, but it isn’t quite as dark and the musical accompaniment provided by Diamonds’ guitar is a little less intricate than we heard on the preceding track. His guitar takes a very direct approach on “Come Back Here” and the majority of the song’s melodic content comes from the beautifully phrased fiddle accompanying Diamonds. This song has good natured warmth that some of the recent songs have lacked and it comes at a good place. 

The upbeat mood continues with the album’s title track. “New Orleans Bound” is full, musically and lyrically, with a vivid sense of possibility. The steel guitar and brass don’t sound at all incongruous together in this context and Little Diamonds provides a perfect counterweight to those elements with his plaintive singing. New Orleans Bound is an impressively unified and clearly conceived musical and lyrical work. Little Diamonds never sounds uncomfortable or uncertain and the songs have a tightness of focus that never wastes the listener’s attentions. Few albums in 2016 will prove as satisfying for fans of Americana music. 

9 out of 10 stars 

Gilbert Mullis

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