Ever put on the right album, at the right time, where every song voices your deepest thoughts, and the music sets it all just-so, allowing your own emotion to bubble up and you just feel? That is how Luoma’s The Maple Plain hit this reviewer this weekend.
Luoma, a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter, recorded most of The Maple Plain in his various Minnesota homes. Homes, plural, because he and his family moved three times over the course of writing and recording. That unsettled, nomadic life feeds into the songs and the music. The Maple Plain is wistful, sad, melancholic Americana, channeling big-place feelings of longing and trying to find a place to belong, while being acutely aware of the passage of time and unfulfilled dreams.
What better way to kick off an Americana album than with a song (“Bear State”) about California? A strummed guitar and Luoma sings, “I love California / As the place to lay the blame / Face down in sunshine.” The heart strings are tugged from the start, first with the lyrics and melody, and then the backing track as it builds. “Bear State,” and the rest of the tracks, are built around guitars, with prominent slide parts, and wonderful, wonderful space to let everything breathe. Over the course of the record, just about every other Americana instrument makes an appearance, too, including pedal steel, piano, electric piano, organ, mandolin, harmonica and flute. Luoma used a wide cast of (mostly remote) supporting musicians, and their contributions are spectacular.
I mentioned that The Maple Plain hit me hard, with each track digging deeper into my own psyche. If I run through each of the tracks, I’ll run out of superlatives (and print space), so here are just a few notes from the journey through the ten tracks. The pedal steel deepens the sadness of the ballad ”Gift of Time,”supporting lyrics such as “One day I’ll have the gift of time / all wrapped up / the way I like to give.” The hummed counterpoint was a chest-punch. “This is the Song” channels the frustrations of a songwriter (“been trying to follow through”) with a delicate melody and lyrical imagery (“If you don’t write it down / there’s an absence of sound / Just the wind that’s on the sky”), supported by a lovely flute line. The lyrics (and vocal harmonies) on “Country Life” had me ready to pack up and go. Strings add a lovely touch to “Empire,” balancing the piano. As the album unfurled, I found myself carried deeper and deeper into my own heart, my nerves growing more and more raw with each passage.
I held it together, more or less, until the final track, “Leaving Again”. Luoma saves the drama of the drop-D tuning until the end of the album, and the solitary rooster crow just adds to the sadness of the mournful melody and lyrics. He starts, “There are things I’m counting on / just like the wind to be moving along”, set against the yearning pedal steel and the solemn acoustic guitar. He continues, “like running time / and see you soon / and singing songs to an empty room,” and that did it. Glasses off, laptop out of the way, my dog concerned about the flowing tears. And that’s before the chorus, much less the second verse.
I plan to listen again, and again, once I am able to. The Maple Plain may not land for you the way it did for me. Whether it does or not, these are beautiful songs, with haunting lyrics, set to exquisite backing tracks. Your ears are in for a treat. And for the chance that Luoma strikes that deeper emotional chord for you too, isn’t that worth a spin?
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