Reviewed by Alex Daniel.
|Rating: 6.0 of 10.|
Young folk singers are often revered for their sage-like wisdom. Bob Dylan was a mere 22 when he asked, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” With songs like “Old Friends,” Simon and Garfunkel ruminated in their mid-20s on aging and the elusive nature of time in a way that has resonated with the young and old for decades since.
And then there are guys like Dylan LeBlanc. With his debut album, Paupers Field, the Shreveport-born songwriter tries to plant himself firmly in this folk camp. He’s got the backcountry fingerpicking style down, and his voice rasps through rough cigarette-induced patches. He even spins tale after tale of loves lost and loves longed for—ailments for which the only cure seems to be the bottle.
But the folky wisdom in these stories often comes off as clichéd. One of the most telling moments comes in “5th Avenue Bar,” in which a stranger tries to console LeBlanc’s heartache by handing him and drink and saying, “This’ll fix it.” It’s a cartoonish narrative—a quality that makes sense given that the narrator is only 20 years old.
To be fair, LeBlanc is not strictly a folk singer. His songs are enveloped in a soporific, doleful brand of country—the kind of music that sways and dissipates like tears in a pint of Budweiser—and it’s a testament to his traditionalism that Emmylou Harris makes an appearance on the chilling “If the Creek Don’t Rise.”
But in many places, Paupers Field feels more like a caricature than a well-rendered portrait of folk-country music. There’s too much shrill, whiny steel guitar, too much hokey heartbreak, and too many narrative elements that neither LeBlanc nor his listeners could possibly be in touch with (see “The Death of Outlaw Billy John” for a prime example).
The trouble is, LeBlanc doesn’t have to be a Dylan, Simon, or Garfunkel to pull this kind of stuff off. He’s got plenty of contemporary peers who take similarly antiquated themes and make them feel timeless and relevant, like Sam Amidon and Peter and the Wolf’s Red Hunter. Musically, LeBlanc even shares some strengths with these songwriters, from the ghostlike whisperings of “Emma Hartley” to the steady chug of album-opener “Low.”
So who knows? These moments, coupled with a few insights that are a little closer to home, could make for a promising second outing from LeBlanc.