The Record (Ontario)
In life, appearances can be deceiving.
In music, sound can be deceiving.
Not to mention names.
All of which makes Chris (Old Man) Luedecke a very deceiving performer.
First off, the Nova Scotia-based performer isn’t old at all. He’s 34 years old.
Second, while he sounds like a refugee from the hills and hollers of Appalachia, he’s a sophisticated, postmodern singer/songwriter raised in a big city.
Born in Toronto, Luedecke lives in Chester, N.S., an hour’s drive outside of Halifax, with his wife Teresa Bergen, an artist who designs her husband’s CD covers.
His love of the banjo began in the Yukon when he heard one played around a campfire.
“There was something exciting about the sound,” Luedecke recalls over the phone from his East Coast home. “It was strange and exotic.”
In contrast to most aspiring singer/songwriters, Luedecke had no interest in guitars. When he was in high school, he associated guitars with the “bravado and swagger” of rock bands.
Too shy for the guitar, he felt “there was no place for me there.” Nonetheless, he harboured an urge to “play music and sing songs.”
Of all instruments, he “found room” in the banjo.
Most people associate banjo virtuosity with the lightning-quick, fingerstyle picking of Earl Scruggs or such contemporary masters as Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka.
He learned the claw-hammer style by immersing himself in the tradition of such back-porch pioneers as Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcolm and, especially, Bascom Lunsford, who was raised in North Carolina.
“The breakthrough for me came when I heard Bascom Lunsford on the Folkways Library of Congress recordings. He had such a craggy voice to go along with the banjo. It was my eureka moment.”
In addition to adopting a particular banjo style, Luedecke tried to “impersonate” Lunsford’s “natural singing style.”
Although the sound is old, his lyrics are not only contemporary, but disarmingly intelligent.
“I don’t play archival folk music,” he stresses. “In my lyrics I seek out a balance between light and dark, hope and fear.
“So much of today’s music is scared of intelligence,” he adds. “I demand a lot from listeners and I think I reward their attention with sincerity and honesty.”
He also injects his songs and between-song stories with the kind of bittersweet humour he picked up from such singer-songwriters as John Prine and the late Roger Miller.
Luedecke has released three albums on Steve Dawson’s Black Hen Music label including Hinterland, the 2008 Juno-winning Proof of Love and hot-off-the-press My Hands Are on Fire and Other Love Songs.
Although the albums feature crackerjack musicians — including Keith Lowe (Fiona Apple, Bill Frisell), John Raham (Be Good Tanyas, Po’ Girls), John Reischman and legendary bluegrass artist Tim O’Brien, in addition to Dawson — Luedecke’s bare bones voice and distinctive banjo are kept in the foreground.
“He’s been great,” Luedecke says of Dawson. “He’s sensitive to the fact that it’s essentially me and my banjo.”
By the way, the Old Man moniker was suggested by a friend who thought it brought to mind a musician “who comes to a bad end,” Luedecke explains with a chuckle. “I liked it and put it on the poster for my first concert.”
The nickname stuck, which is appropriate for a young man with the musical soul of an ancient hillbilly.
Waterloo singer/songwriter Scott Wicken is the opening act. The play at the Princess Café in Watelroo, Tuesday, April 13. The show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.