One of the formative experiences in Little Diamonds’ brief life so far was seeing Bob Dylan live for the first time in 2008. It stoked the musical fires necessary to send Little Diamonds on a journey that resulted in the young man learning a number of instruments and writing his own songs. His second studio release, New Orleans Bound, builds on the promise of his debut and its twelve songs show a performer and writer who confidently presents material that, more and more, is free from the overt influences detectable on his first release. Many of the songs on New Orleans Bound have minimal arrangements with little more than his voice and guitar working carrying the songs. Some listeners might feel the album runs somewhat long as a few of the tracks sound too samey, but there isn’t a single genuine low point on the album.
While there are some solo performances on New Orleans Bound, Diamonds’ wont on this release is to work with one or two additional musicians. There are three instruments propelling the opener forward – Diamonds’ acoustic guitar, fiddle, and some banjo added for good measure and providing occasional color. This format suits the intimacy of his lyrics quite well. The first two songs turn on some particular lyrical twists that are best served by stripped back, lean musical arrangements. This song and the second “Never Met You At All” rely on Diamonds’ vocal delivery, above all else, to get over and he succeeds. This one two punch also sets listeners nicely for the third track and first one with a full band and he integrates when he does vocally quite well with the relaxed accompaniment. It achieves an amiable, loose-limbed musical grace that contrasts quite strikingly with the slyly humorous lyrical content.
“Lord, Come Down” is one of the album’s most intimate solo pieces and shows how completely Little Diamonds has mastered this idiom. He’s adopted the language and tropes without a hint of irony and they work within the context of his songwriting thanks to his deep understanding of their meaning and how he mingles them with more personal and idiosyncratic details. “Duluth Grandma” goes in a more clearly defined folk song direction than the preceding song thanks to the use of harmonica. It’s a solo performance, once again, and finds Little Diamonds working in a storytelling mode. “Come Back Here” has the same intimacy that helps make so much of this release appealing, but there’s two guitars working in tandem here and beautiful violin playing laid over top of it all. The song’s mid tempo pacing never gets it in any sort of undue rush and the feeling of it unwinding in its own time makes it one of New Orleans Bound’s most pleasing moments.
The final song and title track is a full band number that’s a jazzed up mix of steel guitars, horns, and brisk shuffling percussion. Little Diamonds is reaching for a stylistic synthesis here and gets it, but what puts it over the top is a vocal beaming with confidence and good natured fun. There’s a natural blue streak in Diamonds’ voice, but he can turn it to his advantage on more playful tunes in order to give them a little gravitas. It finishes this release on a spectacularly upbeat note and provides an understated exclamation point on everything preceding it. Little Diamonds still leans a little heavily on the solo acoustic guitar playing folk singer bit when it is clear that he’s capable of that and so much more, but the abundance of the former on New Orleans Bound isn’t a fatal flaw. This is a great album and denotes clear and exponential progress for Little Diamonds.
8 out of 10 stars