One man alone on stage with his banjo. A driving rhythm punctuated by the stomping of boots on a wooden floor. Old Man Luedecke’s name and choice of instrument may suggest a world gone by, but the lyrics and melodies that he creates are certainly contemporary. Yet, if you listen carefully, somewhere inside the propulsive grooves, you can still hear the unbroken line that connects Luedecke’s music to the bygone world of Dock Boggs, Ralph Stanley and Pete Seeger.
It’s a sound that’s clearly winning Luedecke more fans. His recent, ‘Proof of Love’ won the Juno award for the best roots album of 2009, and hot on the tail of that release he recently returned to the studio with Steve Dawson once again assuming production duties. Over the course of three days, the pair - aided and abetted by Keith Lowe on bass, John Raham on drums and bluegrass legend, Tim O’Brien on mandolin, fiddle, and vocals - laid down the tracks for the eleven new songs that make up ‘ My Hands are on Fire and other love songs.’
The results speak for themselves, and the chemistry between the musicians soar and crackle on every tune. On an album like this one, it’s hard to pick a standout track, but hurting has never sounded as sweet as on the cover of Canadian roots legend Willie P. Bennett’s ‘Caney Fork River’ when Luedecke’s banjo and O’Brien’s mandolin and high lonesome vocals meet at the crossroads of this song Old Man Luedecke’s songs inhabit a world removed from time where – as he sings on The Rear Guard, a track from the new album - ‘I’m so far behind that I think that I’m first.’
“Good music is honest to its time. The old blues and country artists I love were singing about the world they lived in. When they sang about trains and telephones, they weren’t being ironic. It was new and what they saw around them.”
“I wanted the songs I write to be catchy, but not at the cost of being true. I hear so many songs that have beautiful melodies, but I don’t know what they’re about and I can’t feel them. I’m not trying to write banjo songs that are really just pop songs just waiting to happen. I try to write about my life in a way that I’d like to read about somebody else’s life.”
The songs on ‘My Hands are on Fire and other love songs’ go a long way towards achieving that, and represent a considerable leap in Luedecke’s song craft. Each of the ten new tracks rings with roots authenticity, while still retaining a natural and unforced vibe.
For a solo artist, a full band record like this one can be an exciting proposition. As Luedecke explains, “I love the simplicity of being a solo player. But, this time out, I’ve enjoyed learning to use the studio as a creative place to re-imagine a song. A CD can have its own identity that’s distinct from how the songs are presented in a live show. For the first time, with songs like “Woe Betide the doer of the deed: I’ve had the experience of shaping songs in the studio with these really great players.”
“Old Man” is quite a handle for a performer as young as Chris Luedecke to live with. But, after spending a little time with his music, it’s doesn’t take long to realize that it’s a more apt and descriptive moniker than one might first think. The songs he creates are as timeless and solid, contemporary and ageless as the man’s vision. “I put the name on my first gig poster and it stuck “, says Luedecke. “In a way, the name gives me the space to be the performer I need to.”
It goes without saying that performers like Old Man Luedecke are rare. Intense, committed and blessed with a purity that can’t be faked, Old Man Luedecke is the real thing. Honouring, but not trapped by tradition, ‘My Hands are on Fire and other love songs’ is music for the ages.
Keep your ears open for when this old man comes rolling into your town.