The art of story telling is one that is slowly getting stripped from the conventional song writer. There are countless artists willing to get on stage and start talking about an exaggerated love that started hot and burned out even quicker or pen obvious political agendas cased in minor chords to sound important, but exposing an honest connection to their soul is as fleeting as setting sun.
For Chris "Old Man" Luedecke, years of traveling the road alone have only reinforced the connection he makes with those that chose to listen. Instead of pontificating from his pulpit, he plays show after show filled with bar room conversations, tangential anecdotes and clawhammer melodies delivered with the support of only his stomping left foot and a few sing-along choruses. These performances have defined Luedecke as a performer, earned him praise from his peers and his fans (including the 2009 Juno for Best Roots album) and renewed our faith in song writers. This time around though, Chris isn't alone. Backed by a stellar collection of musicians and guided by Steve Dawson's skilled production, My Hands Are On Fire And Other Love Songs shows Luedecke branching out of his comfort zone and experimenting with bolder textures and interactions.
In some cases, the band's help is subtle (the guitar work that is added to the bridge on Rear Guard and the nice fiddle on Foreign Tongue simply fill out the song and give it another layer to grab the listener's ear) but on tracks like Mountain Plain and Woe Betide The Doer Of The Dead, Tim O’Brien's fiddle mandolin and Dawson's guitar dance alongside Luedecke's trusted banjo with remarkable success. Hell, he even pays tribute to Willie P. Bennett with a nice cover of Caney Fork River (taken from the Canadian legend's last record, where interestingly enough, Bennett too experimented with full band arrangements).
But as much as things change, the more they stay the same. Luedecke songs still feel like he's sharing a pint with each and every listener saddled up on adjacent bar stools. Even when the arrangements are fleshed out and the sound is full, he's able to discuss intimate heartbreak (the immensely sad tale of infertility, The Palace is Golden) and venture into current political landscape without agenda, coldness or adding an unmanageable weight to the affair. Luedecke eschews the draw of the vain rock star or even the proletariat, working class hero as he follows his own path and sings his own songs. He comes off like a friendly stranger, a friend willing that values each discussion you have, or I suppose, the uncle or grandfather that is always ready with smile and a yarn to spin.