Old Man Luedecke
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One man alone on stage with his banjo. A driving rhythm punctuated by the stomping of his 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 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 Bascom Lunsford, 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 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 (Fiona Apple, Bill Frisell) on bass, John Raham (Be Good Tanyas, Po’ Girl) on drums, and Grammy award-winning bluegrass legend, Tim O’Brien (Hot Rize, Steve Earle) on fiddle mandolin 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 sing for themselves, and the chemistry of the musicians soars and crackles 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 ‘Mountain Plain’ when Luedecke’s banjo and O’Brien’s mandolin and high lonesome vocals meet at the crossroads of this song.
On ‘The Rear Guard’, which should have been subtitled My Hands are on Fire, Luedecke sings not of the avant-guard but of “Bringing up the rear guard/ coming in dead last/ trying to find the smiles that don’t fade so fast.’ He invokes imagery of Icarus’s flight to the sun to stick up for the outsider in a thrilling and memorable way.
“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 want 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 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. The eleventh, Caney Fork River is a cover and tribute to Willie P. Bennett, a legend of Canadian song.
For a solo artist, a full band record may have been risky. As Luedecke explains, “I love the simplicity of being a solo player. But, this time, I’ve enjoyed learning to use the studio as a creative place to imagine a song. This is a bunch of great musicians making it with my songs. A recording 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 ‘The Palace is Golden’ I’ve had the experience of shaping songs in the studio with these really great players.” The sad tale of infertility gets a dirgefull stomp that is as exciting as it is heartbreaking.
“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. “I put the name on my first gig poster and it stuck “, says Luedecke. “In a way, it gives me the space I need to be a performer.”
It goes without saying that Old Man Luedecke is an original. 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.