Luke LeBlanc, writing and recording under the stage name Little Diamonds, has released his second full length album entitled New Orleans Bound. This self-taught musician began playing music near this twelfth birthday and has since mastered a number of instruments while honing his act to incorporate nothing by original tunes with music and lyrics penned alone. There are a number of obvious influences exerting a hold over the twelve songs on New Orleans Bound, like Bob Dylan and John Prine among others, but the less obvious influences on these songs are every bit as important. Little Diamonds isn’t content confining himself to one or two styles; he demonstrates impressive fluency with a variety of forms and sounds credible helming them all. The production on New Orleans Bound is charged with only a few central tasks, but it accomplishes each of them with great style and attention to detail.
“I Don’t Know About You” has a variety of string instruments it calls on to fill the musical canvas. The straight ahead acoustic guitar and occasional banjo dropping in has beautifully phrased fiddle creating melodies over the top. Little Diamonds brings a plaintive voice to the lyrics, carefully enunciating each passage, and filling the track with underplayed emotion. “Never Met You At All” has some similar thematic inclinations, but the instrumentation is even more minimal than the opener. Diamonds’ vocal is only accompanied by acoustic guitar and bluesy harmonica runs. This particular configuration for a “folk” song is one of the form’s abiding clichés, at this point, but Little Diamonds avoids bathos through the terse economy of his lyrics and the sincerity in his delivery. The first full band track on New Orleans Bound, “12-12-12”, is the first song breaking away from the formulaic aspects present in the first two songs and making a much more idiosyncratic lyrical statement. There’s some light humor in the song, but there’s also a bit of darkness bleeding in around the edges that deepens the track’s effects.
One of the album’s finest moments comes with the unadorned simplicity of “Too Early Gone”. The play on words in the song title extends to the lyric as a whole. It’s a musically spartan track, but Little Diamonds does less with more and the interplay between his voice, acoustic guitar, and fiddle is certain to enchant many listeners. “Duluth Grandma” is one of the album’s best lyrics and shows supremely entertaining storytelling virtues that dwarf those in any preceding song. Little Diamonds knows how to place his voice in such a way that he effectively dramatizes the words while keeping his performance in balance with the surrounding instrumentation. “Drive Away” has a gentle melodic insistence that dovetails nicely with his voice and, like other songs, accomplishes much with very little obvious musical firepower. The subtlety he shows throughout the release belongs to a much older performer and his songwriting has made a lot of progress towards finding its individual voice in the time since his debut.
The remainder of the album continues along this stripped back, sparse musical trajectory until it reaches the final song. The title track explores Dixieland jazz, but it isn’t a purist’s vision of the form. Little Diamonds doesn’t sweat giving some studied approximation of the style and, instead, “New Orleans Bound” has a lot of feel and great emotion. It ends Little Diamonds’ sophomore effort on a nicely confident note.