Leif Vollebekk’s earthy release, Inland, harkens back to antiquity, to the days when world-weary traveling minstrel poets traversed lands with banjos on their backs. In contrast, his voice summons up jazz and blues legends like Lady Day, raspy and emotion-wracked while simultaneously channeling Jeff Buckley, and yet the collision of spirits makes this sound uniquely his own.

Written in Reykjavík, Iceland, and his home of Montreal, this fully acoustic work shimmers with depth and vibrancy. Traces of both locales lurk in the imagery that Vollebekk evokes in his storytelling.

In fact, the lyrics stand alone as works of poetry even without the support of the music. Tales of doomed love affairs, journeys by rail and Parisian afternoons are set against a backdrop that Vollebekk himself describes as “Hank Williams meets Sigur Rós.”

“In the Morning” is magic, banjo woven with acoustic guitar and lush strings that support Vollebekk’s remarkable croon that trembles with emotion.

“You Couldn’t Lie to Me in Paris” is short and sweet, tongue in cheek. The tale he weaves is over so abruptly, it’s almost bewildering. “In the Midst of Blue and Green” wields gorgeous with stream-of-consciousness lyrical content that paints impossible landscapes.

“Michael Robartes & the Dancer” puts the focus on storytelling as Vollebekk crafts a vivid world, like peering into the window of a stranger and suddenly finding the depth of humanity in a moment of hazy wonder.

“Quebec” is a classic Appalachian style blues, harmonica wailing. “Northernmost Eva Maria” reads like a hymn to feminine beauty and builds unexpectedly from a gentle reverence to a raucous celebration. “A Dozen Mares” is like a poetry recital over enchanting guitar, “1921” is hazy, imagery lost on a wave of atmospherics. “Don’t Go to Klaksvik” is deceptively ancient, a classic tune with magnificent pearls of poetry strewn about like garlands. “Ladyland” is a gentle folk lament that floats delicately to conclude the album.

Excellent music transports listeners and frees spirit from the bounds of time, and this release does just that. This listener’s only complaint is that the songs are almost too concise; this work concludes far too soon, leaving the listener longing for more. Inland is an impressive debut.

Grade: B+

Inland is currently available.