What were you doing when you were twenty? I was slogging through what would become a very average college career, partying and drinking copious amounts of beer, and maybe that’s why I’m a lowly hack music writer. But enough about me.
Soulful, sparse, haunting, polished and mature are all fitting adjectives to describe twenty-year-old Dylan LeBlanc’s debut album, Paupers Field.
With wise lyrics that belie his age and an impressive musical legacy (he was practically raised in the famed Muscle Shoals studio in Alabama — his dad is a sideman) as well as backup vocals by the legendary Emmylou Harris, LeBlanc has produced a starkly tender and focused album. Wispy acoustic and soaring pedal steel guitars rule the day.
LeBlanc’s vocals evoke Townes Van Zandt and Gregg Allman, with a brooding and distant quality that, although impressive, can become emotionally taxing after an entire album of story songs wrapped in delicate melodies that could be the soundtrack to a sensitive independent film. With this one, you’ll either want to put on a pot of strong coffee or take a very relaxing nap that just might result in some very vivid dreams. The songs tend to come across as bleak lullabies.
Amid the songs of longing, regret, and obsessive love (“Love is like water and water gets rough / You can drown underneath the surface and keep your head up.”), melancholy strings stand out on “Fifth Avenue Bar” so emotionally that you can almost smell the smoke of “the man who’s lighting up his cheap cigar.” It’s a completely sad song that sticks with you long after the album’s over.
There are tragic figures on “Death of Outlaw Billy John” and “No Kind of Forgiveness”, and a disturbing ghost lover haunting a narrator who may or may not be a junkie on “Emma Hartley,” and we dare you not to be mesmerized by this mysterious woman.
All in all, Paupers Field is a slick production with melodies and multi-layered lyrics that will indeed haunt you long after you’ve moved away from LeBlanc’s desolate landscapes.
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