Thursday, December 29, 2016

Little Diamonds - New Orleans Bound

Little Diamonds - New Orleans Bound 

Little Diamonds, since his 2010 recording debut, has received a flood of justified praise from critics and audiences alike. His modern take on traditional American music definitely works within the singer/songwriter vein and wears its influences on its sleeve, but he transmutes those traditions through his own strong personality and infuses the twelve songs on his second album with an unique identity. These aren’t merely tributes to old music or greater talents. This is the work of a young artist who has adopted an older form as a viable vehicle for self-expression. New Orleans Bound is a substantive musical work that hangs together without a single lull and has an across the board lyrical consistency. Despite his Minnesota upbringing, Little Diamonds can pull off a credible southern accent that invests the songs with some added atmosphere that never risks tackiness.

There are two full band songs on the album. The first, “12-12-12”, is a humorous yarn about the end of the world seemingly manifesting itself in a variety of ways and the narrator’s bemused contending with it all. Little Diamonds handles finding his place amid the added instrumentation with sure instincts and knows just how to pitch his voice against the other players. The drums present in this song really make a difference and give the song a shape that the solo numbers lack. The album’s second full band track, the title song, is the broadest number musically. Little Diamonds brings a jazzy influence, via the Big Easy, to bear on the arrangement and it creates a dramatic contrast with the steel guitars present in the song. Little Diamonds sounds genuinely inspired to be singing against this backing track and his voice jumps with the same liveliness he puts into the songwriting.  

The remainder of the album is divided between solo performances featuring Diamonds, his acoustic guitar work, and occasional harmonica sitting alongside other performances that normally feature fiddle in accompaniment with occasional fills from other stringed instruments. The opening tandem of “I Don’t Know About You” and “Never Met You at All” sound like pages ripped from the autobiography of bad relationships and Diamonds gives great performances on both songs that never play their somewhat bitter lyrical content with too heavy of a hand. “Lord, Come Down” is one of the strongest solo performances thanks to the intense lyrical clarity and the focus Little Diamonds brings to both his playing and vocal performance.  

Two of the most important songs on New Orleans Bound are character studies. “Duluth Grandma” and “Old Man Al” are supremely detailed distillations of character and highlight Diamonds’ storytelling abilities. The musical backing on both of these songs is written cognizant of the importance of the words, but they aren’t merely ornamental. The former song has particularly melodic guitar work. New Orleans Bound is one of the best traditional albums to emerge from the Americana scene in recent memory and deserves a wide audience. Little Diamonds is a multi-faceted talent who will only continue growing from here.  

9 out of 10 stars 

Michael Saulman

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