Album Reviews

Dylan LeBlanc – Paupers Field

(Rough Trade) UK release date: 23 August 2010

First, there’s that title. Then there’s the sepia cover depicting a dryfield, bare trees and a small wooden cabin. The song titles mention creeksand outlaws. The music comes washed in pedal steel guitar, brushed drums andthe occasional pluck of a banjo. It would be hard to find a debut album thatworked any harder to demonstrate its authentic Americana credentials.

Even at the tender age of twenty, Dylan LeBlanc at leasthas the history and the connections. His father was a session musician atMuscle Shoals, which introduced the young Dylan to many great musicians(including Spooner Oldham) and fed his burgeoning love of music.LeBlanc has the appearance of the young Townes Van Zandt. He is amore than competent guitar picker and there can be no doubt that he hasabsorbed the tradition of southern soul.

Musically, the meticulously produced Paupers Field resembles the dustysound of Neil Young circa Harvest Moon, with a light glow of reverb.Occasionally, it perhaps sounds like a less dramatic Calexico.Vocally, it is hard to escape the fact that LeBlanc’s slightly nasal tonesare strongly reminiscent of Ryan Adams, the last greatly hypedwunderkind of contemporary Americana. Whether consciously or not, it’smercifully the Adams of Heartbreaker rather than the Adams of Cardinology orRock n’ Roll that LeBlanc appears to be channelling. Regardless of itsthemes (which cover grief, drifting and outlaw deaths), this is comforting,familiar music with the effect of a home fire providing warmth in wintermonths. If Adams is no longer prepared to make albums like this, it’sprobably a good thing that someone else is prepared to step in.

There are a handful of songs on Paupers Field that are articulate andengaging. The highlight is probably If The Creek Don’t Rise, a gentlyrustling, affecting ballad that features characteristically convincingbacking vocals from Emmylou Harris. Tuesday Night Rain has a gorgeoussouthern soul lilt that really allows LeBlanc’s empathetic voice to shine,whilst 5th Avenue Bar and Emma Hartley are delicate and melancholy. Theamiable shuffle of If Time Was For Wasting seems perfectly suited to itstitle. The playing throughout is sensitive and understated, demonstrating athorough understanding of arrangement and dynamics.

Still, a lingering doubt remains that there’s something a little worthyand studied about Paupers Field. As well executed as it is, it never soundstruly distinctive. Occasionally, it sounds as if LeBlanc is learning wellfrom his predecessors and also from some of his contemporaries (FleetFoxes particularly) but without ever quite finding a personal, uniquevoice. Songs like Ain’t Too Good At Losing and No Kind Of Forgiveness dealin well-worn vocabulary and pass by pleasantly without making much of animpact. Nothing here has quite the grit or passion of Dan Penn‘s DarkEnd Of The Street or Tony Joe White‘s Rainy Night In Georgia.

There is of course still plenty of time for LeBlanc to develop as asinger and a writer, should the fickle music industry afford him theopportunity and space to do this. Paupers Field demonstrates that he is amusician and writer of ample talent. The line on Changing of the Seasonsabout him having “been around the block many times…too many for my age”neatly encapsulates the traditional, rootsy feel and contemplative themes ofhis music. Paupers Field is a sometimes excellent, never less thanlistenable album � but it seems like a starting point rather than an initialtriumph.

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