Daniel Folmer may have come onto the scene in 2006 as a wide-eyed wunderkind, but with 2007's Gloria, and now A Leaf, he's starting to carry himself like a sage observer of the human condition. Folmer's earnest-yet-slightly-cynical balladry continues to mature, occasionally veering into Rufus Wainwright territory, but forgoing Wainwright's arch melodrama for direct, first- and second-person confessionalism that might have been taken straight from a journal. In lesser hands, such transparency is usually precious and irksome; with Folmer it's occasionally downright revelatory. A Leaf charts an affair Folmer had with an older woman and manages to combine Mrs. Robinson-esque feelings of romantic helplessness with an almost Joni Mitchell-like wisdom.
Folmer's protagonist is self-possessed enough to observe his own demise and chronicle the event with poetic clarity, but young and stupid enough not to do a damn thing about it. This contradiction is front-and-center on the first lines of the opening track: "Time is passing\Happiness is passing by and waving as it moves on\I've got a lot to say\Not a lot to do about it." Folmer is in good form vocally, but for much of the album he sounds tired and detached, as if the very notion of reliving this story through these songs has drained him before he opens his mouth.
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While A Leaf is as tuneful and smart as we've come to expect from Folmer's work, it's not quite the masterwork everyone seems to know he has in him.